Turbot (Scopthalmus maximus): Baits, Tackle and Fishing Method Tips
The turbot (Scopthalmus maximus) is one of the largest of the flatfishes. Its body is roughly diamond-shaped, scaleless, and covered with blunt, bony tubercles. The upper surface is a mottled and speckled brown, the underside white. The lateral line arches over the pectoral fins.
Turbot are found mainly around the south and west coasts, where they inhabit waters around banks, feeding on the fish which move across the shallow parts. There are several such banks along the south coast of England, the most notable being the Skerries off Dartmouth, the Shambles off Weymouth, and the Vame off Folkestone.
Undoubtedly the best bait of all is a live sand-eel, a favourite delicacy of the turbot. At low water when you can usually see the bottom, great shoals of these eels can often be seen on the tops of the banks. It is well worthwhile having a string of feathers with you. If they are jiggled up and down, it is often possible to hook a few eels, which will almost certainly attract the turbot once the tide begins to flow. The feathers must only be moved up and down a very short distance to get the eels, which, attracted by the bright colours, mill around the lures. Most of them will usually be foul-hooked, as the hooks are too large for them to take properly.
If live sand-eels are not available, the next best bait is mackerel or, if freshly caught, herring. Cut a long sliver of flesh from the belly and thread it on the hook so as to make it look like a sand-eel when placed in the water.
Tackle should consist of a medium-sized boat rod, a reel with capacity for about 135 m (150 yds) of line up to 12 kg (251b) b.s., a running boom with weight according to the strength of the tide, and a 3.6 m (4 yd) nylon trace. Hook size should be 4/0.
The best method of fishing is to anchor above a bank where it falls off into deep water. It is most important to fish the side of the bank away from the tide. Therefore during the slack-water period it will be necessary to move from one end of the bank to the other.
Turbot invariably lies at the bottom of the shelving bank and come upwards to take the bait. An ideal depth at which to anchor is the eight-to-ten fathom mark, sufficiently far on to the bank to allow your bait to run out some 45 to 72 m (50 to 80 yds) from the boat before it reaches the shelving area.
Normally the tide sweeps across the bank in a diagonal manner; it is therefore essential, when once the marks have been located, to take careful bearings at various stages of the tide, in order to know the exact location of the shelf for future fishing.
The slack-water period produces few, if any, fish. A strong flow of water is needed, as it allows the bait to work from side to side in the current.
When the bait is lowered to the bottom, allow the weight to work its way to the edge of the bank so that the trace will be flowing in the tide slightly out from the shelving face. The bait will now work in a life-like manner and should produce results if the fish are around.
Allow the turbot plenty of time to get the hook down before striking. With a big fish in a heavy tide the strain will be severe and it is essential to get a firm hook-hold well inside the fish.
It requires a good deal of patience, particularly when fishing the Varne Bank, to get the fish near enough to the boat to, for when the tide is very heavy once the fish is clear of the bank it inevitably gets swept up to the surface by the force of the current. When this occurs, it is sometimes well worthwhile letting out an extra cable on the anchor and reeling in at the same time. Then, when the fish has been boated, the boat can be hauled back to its original position.
Sometimes turbot will be seen to follow a bait through the water. They have been known to go for one on the surface. This indicates that these fish would, if given the opportunity, go for a moving bait such as a large silver spoon.
One attraction of turbot fishing is the fact that in addition: to this species, whiting,, tope, and dabs will be found on the shelving bottom, and even at slack water sport is norm-’ ally brisk.