In answer to the questions I’ve received through the Facebook page regarding smoothhound fishing, here is a brief run down on how I like to target them. There would appear to be regional trends, and alternative approaches but this is what works for me on the Channel…
Here on the Bristol Channel, the fish that everyone is talking about now is the smoothhound. Easier to catch than some may have you believe, the hound is more often than not the first fish that the sea angler will actually feel pulling back when hooked. These feisty sharks are great fun to catch and with a little know-how can be an easy target for the new angler looking to hook something that will offer a scrap to remember.
Tackle need not be overly complicated, a standard beach set up is more than capable of landing the fish, though the rod of choice should be able to cope with casting 6oz of lead. It is no coincidence that many of the well documented smooth hound marks are subject to a keen run of tide, so it is advisable to carry a few heavier sinkers for when the tide really gets under way. A fixed spool or multiplier reel can be used and should be loaded with a mainline of around 18-20lb (0.37mm-0.40mm) and of course a shock leader relevant to the weight of the lead being cast.
To reduce tackle losses, a weak link system should be used so that if the lead should become snagged, it will be this that breaks away under pressure rather than the entire rig, shock leader and possibly even a hooked fish. A pulley rig is the only serious contender when it comes to rigging up for larger fish and the smoothhound is no exception.
When contemplating bait, there really is only one choice- Crab. There is much speculation as to the most effective variant; fresh, frozen, hard back or peeler, but for me, top of the tree has to be frozen peeler. Buy your crabs a dozen at a time and try to select the crabs that are splitting. Freeze the crabs in bulk, a dozen at a time in freezer bags or better still, vacuum pack them and disregard anything you read about removing the shell first.
The shell will protect the soft flesh from freezer burn and will ensure that the bait is in pristine condition when you come to use it. Live crabs require care and attention to keep them in top shape, where as frozen crabs have a huge shelf life making them infinitely more practical. Begin stock piling crabs in January and by the time the first of the fish arrive in early June, you will have ample supply. Take the frozen crab to your venue in a cool box and defrost one at a time. Remove the outer hard shell to expose the soft body underneath and use a pair of scissors to slit the crab a third of the way through. Open it up length ways, lay it along the shank of the hook and whip it in place with bait elastic.
Hook size and pattern is something I have recently experimented with. Having been a devoted fan of the Big Mouth pattern for years, it was only when the fish were not taking the bait that enthusiastically that I looked to an alternative. I’m pretty sure that the shy bites experienced of late are a result of minimal fish numbers. Without competition, the fish is free to take its time when it encounters a meal rather than grab it and run which makes for a very subtle bite- not something generally associated with smooth hound fishing. I have found that a Chinu pattern has vastly improved my hook rate and the slightly turned in point reduced tackle losses to boot.
A pair of 3/0 hooks seem to work perfectly when baited with either a whole small crab or half of a larger one and nine times out of ten it will be the top hook of the pennel that takes hold just inside the corner of the mouth.
Getting the approach right is important, but have confidence in what you do. Choice of venue is very much dictated by the tide. Some venues will produce fish on the flood, some on the ebb and getting familiar with these patterns can mean the difference between success and failure.