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How to catch Turbot

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Without doubt one of the UK’s tastiest fish, a big turbot is the ultimate sea fishing prize. Here’s how to tackle up for them.

As our winter species depart and we wait patiently for our summer species to arrive, the month of March can seem dull when it comes to boat fishing.

Post Christmas blues and bad weather are a couple of culprits to name but a few, but for the keen year-round sea angler there is only one depressing factor in the month of March – a lack of fish to target.

In general it is agreed that when compared to many other months of the year, March isn’t our greatest. It is just one of these periods we endure while we wait for the great range of our summer species that increase throughout April and May.

Most of our summer species arrive in late spring like the flick of a light switch as the water temperature rises, but we are wrong to stereotype and think that all our species turn up fast in this way. 

Some like it fast and some like it slow and this is where the turbot comes in. Whereas many species of round fish like mackerel, bass, pollack and cod seem to turn up overnight, our flatfish species are very different. 

Spring flatfish fishing peaks in late spring and early summer, timed with the arrival of many of our other species, but due to their different body shape not being designed like their pelagic friends to travel as fast, all flatfish have to take the gradual, slower approach to migration, and the turbot is no exception to this rule.

Turbot

Turbot Therapy!
Being the largest of our flatfish, (regularly caught flatfish that is) the turbot starts to arrive off our coastline during March. 

As this fishes name implies ‘Maxima’ she is the Holy Grail of flatfish, so early March each year, keen specimen seekers start to do exploration sorties to find out if this fish has arrived. 

First there are a few blank trips, then a rumour goes out that the first fish of the year has been caught. 

Within days this solitary catch turns into a few fish here and there. From thereon into summer the fishing gets better weekly, if not daily, like a steady trickle. 

If you want to break the winter angling blues early each year, you cannot go wrong by applying some turbot therapy in March. 

For those who are willing to brave cold weather and some sloppy days at sea, turbot fishing offers the chance of a flatfish in excess of 20lb and a nice fish to eat if you fancy taking the odd one for the table. 

Not only do these fish fight hard they make great eating, often being described as ‘our best tasting fish’. Their price in restaurants reflects this common feeling. This is why they have become not only a popular fish to catch but also a popular fish to farm.

Turbot Tactics
Turbot are a clever fish that have to be specifically located, which at times can be difficult, but the techniques used to catch them are very simple. 

Running rigs baited with launce, sandeel or fish strip are fished hard or dragged along the bottom, and there’s nothing more you can do but hope – anyone can catch a turbot.

Once hooked they fight hard - a turbot may take its time to travel long distances, but once hooked they will use their flat shape and full body length to convulse power through to their tails in a bid to run for freedom. Depending on tides and weather conditions, they suit light tackle fishing well.

With its flat shape the turbot was created to live lying on the sea bed – it is an awesome ambush predator. 

With its camouflaged upper body, it is clear that the turbot is well designed to hide on or buried beneath sand and shingle. 

The turbot’s eyes are placed on top of the head to poke up from the sand and offer near all-round sea bed vision. 

The turbot has an extending lower jaw and nothing is too big to swallow – a ten-pound fish could chew on a tennis ball if it wished. 

Turbot are a fish that like their food and enjoy killing it, and because this fish has a large appetite, when they choose to feed they do feed hard. Bites are very rarely timid on a good day! 

Turbot

The strange life of Turbot
Turbot come from an order of fishes called Pleuronectiformes and are very similar to all our other flatfish species. 

All general Pleuronectiformes start planktonic life swimming as round-fish like bass, cod or pollack, but when the fish reaches several weeks old, one eye starts to move across the fishes head towards the other eye where it will stay for the rest of the fishes life.

Turbot can be left or right sided but it is most common that their eyes lie to the right, meaning what should have been its left side is facing up. Right-sided fish are called dextral while left sided fish are called sinistral.

A turbot has fins left and right that run the full length of its body from head to tail. In its upright form the right fin would have been a dorsal, while the left fin would have been an anal fin. 

The body colours of a turbot range from dark browns to sandy yellows, with spots and other markings patterning this fishes body like the sea bed it chooses to live over. 

Their undersides are nearly always white or shades of, although some fish can appear to be stained brown. A turbot’s natural diet consists of mainly fish – sandeel, launce, mackerel and any other fish that would dare swim near the bottom. 

They can be found the length and breadth of the UK with the bigger specimens coming from southern counties over the summer months. 

Places to look are beach surf lines, sandbanks and any other area created from sand, shingle or broken shells. To identify a turbot one of the easiest ways is to turn the fish face down, white side up. 

A turbot takes on a slight diamond shape at its span, whereas all other big flatfish will appear more round.

Turbot tackle and technique
Species Sought
 – Turbot, the UK’s tastiest flatfish and a spirited fighter. The average size is between 2lb and 10lb.

Rods and Reels – Turbot fishing can require anything from just a few ounces to over 1lb of lead. This will be dictated by conditions, tide and depth. With smaller leads a 6lb general boat rod will land anything you would hook, as long as the reel clutch is set correctly. 

If lead needs to be increased, a heavier downtide rod or uptider will be fine. If conditions are harsh, it will take a 20lb or 30lb outfit to cope. Multipliers should be used and balanced to the rod in hand. Braid will always offer better tide cutting ability and bite detection. Mono rarely has a place in modern Turbot fishing.

Baits – There are three main baits for Turbot – Sand eel and launce {dead or alive} and fish strip – preferably mackerel. Garfish strip when available is reported to be excellent. Each of these baits is usually hooked by one hook so that live baits present themselves naturally, and fish baits wave in the tide like a live fish.

Turbot

Rigs and technique – There is one main rig for turbot fishing – a simple running ledger. Tackle should be kept simple and as invisible as possible. Thread the main line down through a small boom, followed by a bead and then tie on a small swivel. 

To this swivel you tie a clear trace with a length ranging from just a few feet to a maximum of 20ft. 

An average length would be 8-12ft. Trace strength will depend on the size of the fish you seek, 10lb being a bare minimum, anything over 30lb will hamper bait movement. Trace line colour should always be clear. 

For hooks – wide gape and circle patterns work very well for turbot as do normal J-patterns. Hook size depends on bait size so to keep the bait fishing naturally. Pick a hook from size 2/0 to 6/0 depending on what bait you’re using.

Boat Handling – There are two ways to fish for turbot - on the drift and at anchor, the former being the preferred and most deadly method. 

When anchoring you will have to find the position where the turbot are feeding, which on a big sandbank will be like looking for a needle in a haystack! Drifting will let you cover ground quicker as turbot are usually spread out. Drifting is often the best way to present a livebait that is travelling with the tide. 

When you locate a fish hotspot, reduce your drift length and drift the specific spot with greater accuracy. This is also the time to anchor if you should so choose.

Places to Look – Turbot are a spring, summer and autumn species with fish arriving and departing from different counties during different months. 

The southern half of the UK is more accustomed to targeting turbot. Welsh beaches and sandbanks offer good numbers of this species. South coast gravel banks offer a compromise between good fishing and big fish. 

But by far the best place to target turbot has to be the Channel Islands - Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney. 

The huge tides that the Channel Islands are known for tidal races and tidal races create sand and shingle banks. These areas then attract and direct microscopic marine life, which in turn attracts baitfish like launce and sandeel. 

Obviously our turbot turn up to feed on these! Depths for catching turbot can range from a few feet at the back of a surf line to banks that exist in over 150ft of water.

Specimen sizes – The British record stands at 33lb 12oz and was caught in 1980 from somewhere within the Salcombe area. Turbot in the 1-5lb size range are very common. Any fish around or over 10lb is a nice fish to catch. 

Warning – Turbot inhabit places like sandbanks where tides run hard. Be careful of tidal races and overfalls when boat handling. 

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