How to catch: Shore Plaice

Posted on Mar 30 2009 - 7:04am by Mike Thrussell
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Plaice are another shore fish achieving cult like status amongst sea anglers. Yet the fact is that not many anglers actually catch many plaice by design. In fact check through anglers annual species lists and plaice are not a common catch for many, and often so called plaice are often misidentified flounder that happen to have faint spots on their back.

Understanding some of the biology and habits of plaice will give you a much greater chance of catching them.


The quickest form of identification is that plaice have a series of four to seven bony knobs on their head between the gill cover and the eyes. These are missing on the flounder.

Flounder in contrast have a series of rough scales above the pectoral fin and also running along the length of the edge of the dorsal and anal fins.

Forget orangey yellow spots as a means of species separation, both plaice and flounder can have spots on their backs, though typically the spots on plaice are far more evident, but not fool proof.


The head of a flounder without the bony knobs


The head of a plaice with bony knobs

It’s a misconception that plaice are widely spread. Plaice tend to be locally common, often concentrated in relatively small areas and identifying these is obviously crucial to success.

Whatever area you live in, use the forum boards, magazines and newspaper angling columns to get an idea where plaice are commonly caught. This is a fast track to reliable marks.

If catch reports are limited or non existent, don’t give up! Study Admiralty charts in detail and check out your local beaches during the big equinoctial tides to locate features that might hold plaice.

Surf beaches can hold plaice, but on shallower western storm beaches any plaice present tend to be smaller sub 1/2 lb fish. You need deeper steep-to beaches with a general depth of 12-feet plus to be in with the best chance.

Plaice choose clean sand, often the coarse type that squeaks under your feet when walked on is their ideal habitat, but finer sand, often found in estuaries around the mouth, also suits.

The features you are looking for are definite sandbanks. Plaice will always choose to sit on the inclines of sandbanks, usually right at the base of the bank where food is washed down to them. They also choose this station due to sandeels being present, and plaice are active hunters of sandeel.

Banks show themselves on the sea surface as roughed up water, but remember that the “surface sign” will be downtide of the actual bank.

Other features to find are areas of seed mussel, shingle banks joining clean sand and any deeper gutters that carry the tide parallel with the beach. The seed mussel beds can be key in some areas and the only feature that will hold plaice.

Surf Beach for Plaice

Fishing a surf beach for plaice

Any man made structure with leg type supports will have a scoured out gutter running along the length of the structure. The supports carry mussels, plus any food borne along by the tide will be deposited in the gutter. Plaice sit on the gutter edge facing in to the tide and intercept food as it washes past.

Few anglers associate plaice with estuaries, yet its common to find good plaice fishing at the mouth of small estuaries.

Estuary plaice will be resident again close to and over seed mussel beds which are often a feature at the mouths of small estuaries.

They also like deep scoured out holes in the main channel where the tide is bottle necked and digs out the sand. This brings food to them and again they choose to sit on the incline nearest the tide run with food rolled down to them.


Estuaries can be ideal plaice territory

Plaice show from the shore typically around early March in the south, North Wales and the Northwest. They can be a month later though if the winter is a late one. They fatten up quickly and by May can be quite fat. They stay inshore in most areas until September then begin a slow outward migration. In the deeper Scottish sea lochs this migration may not be until early November as the water depth insulates the fish.

The bigger spring tides, and as is so often the case with most fish, the tides three days before the biggest spring tide of that cycle will usually produce the better fishing from the beaches. In estuaries, due to the fast flow of the tide, the smaller rising tides may be the better bet, though again invariably the bigger the tide the better the plaice fishing will be.

Plaice usually feed best on the flood tide with dead low water and the first hour of the flood often the best time. The middle hours of the flood also produce fish, but marks where plaice feed over high water are generally few and far between. Ebb tides are rarely good from the shore unless the water is in excess of 20-feet deep.

It’s wrong to assume that plaice will not feed at night as some are caught in pitch black conditions, but this is unusual and most experienced plaice anglers would always pick a tide in daylight. Plaice actually feed best in quite bright conditions in water over 10-feet deep, but in shallower water an overcast sky is preferred.

Don’t be put off by well coloured water. In estuaries when mud is often suspended in the water column during the big tides plaice will still feed well.

Plaice on beaches tend to be at long range. In this case you’ll need to stick with a 4-6oz beachcaster, fast running multiplier such as an ABU 6500 type, or a 070/80 sized fixed spool loaded to the brim with 12 to 15lb mono and a 60lb shock leader. Fixed spool users might prefer to switch to 20lb braid for its bite detection and low diameter qualities if the tide run is fast.

Tackling Up

In estuaries the plaice may be right at your feet when fishing a deep water main channel. In this scenario you can get better sport using a 2-4oz bass rod, ABU 5000 and 12lb line with a 30lb shock leader and leads up to 4ozs.

Look at the shape of a plaice and you’ll realise the fish sits in the sand with the eyes looking upwards and sideways for moving food. This means you need the bait fished hard on the seabed.

The best rig for beach fishing is a one up/one down rig armed with size 2 Kamasan B940 Aberdeen hooks. The hooks need to be clipped in bait clips for long range fishing. Two-hook wishbone rigs also work well.

For estuary fishing at close range in to deep water, and when fishing man made structures, choose a simple one-hook flowing trace rig fixed between crimps and positioned just above the lead link. The snood needs to be up to 30-inches long and made from 15lb Fluoro carbon.

Early in the season black lug, ideally fresh but also good quality frozen black, tends to be the better bait. You can tip with squid and razorfish which can sometimes pull in extra fish.

Ragworm tends to be a localised bait working well in one area and not in another.

By mid to late April peeler crab becomes the main bait for plaice with worm baits slightly less effective. Crab stays the number one bait through the summer though sandeel can also pick out some bigger plaice, but late summer fish tend to go back to preferring worm with mussel also picking up some good fish. This is a general fact and baits can have localised preference so experiment.

Plaice respond best to baits that have a little movement. When tipping with squid, a slice of sandeel fillet or razorfish, leave a little below the hook to wriggle in the tide.

Plaice Baits

Ideal plaice baits lugworm above and crab below

When fishing beaches if you know exactly where the bank inclines are and the seed mussel beds, then static ledgering with grip leads will find the fish.

Improved catches will result if you deliberately choose plain leads and let them wash around with the tidal current over the top of the banks and then let the lead roll down the incline to the fish. This presents the bait exactly where and how the fish expect to find it and is the classic plaice tactic. It works just as well when fishing deep scoured out holes in the main estuary channels too.

During periods of slow tidal flow increasing the length of hook snoods on one up/one down rigs to at least 20-inches can induce a better catch rate as the bait is allowed more movement and attracts the plaice better.

If fishing from man made structure always fish on the side the tide is hitting. Allow the lead weight to wash under the structure and in to the gutter created by the tide. Unless you know there is good fish holding feature well away from the pier, then casting out to distance puts you away from the fish and your catches will be minimal.

Plaice do not rattle the rod tip like flounder and dabs do. A plaice bite is more typically a single good pull, pause for a few seconds then another good pull. Let them pull two or three times before gently lifting the rod, taking in the slack line and lifting the lead weight free to set the hook.

When fishing shallower beaches and areas with little tide run, choose a flat sinker like the Breakaway Flattie leads and occasionally “twitch” the lead back a few inches every minute or so. This tactic dusts up small clouds of sand, plus moves the bait, and will help attract plaice that may not smell the scent from the baits.

Twitchy Leads

Coloured beads work well slid on to the hook trace above the hook. Good combinations are black and green, red and black and yellow and black. Experiment on the day to find the best combination, its well worth while and will catch you more fish.

Add Some Beads

In faster tide currents and when allowing the bait to trot round with a plain lead, add a small to medium sized plastic spinning spoon between the top two beads. Good colours are silver or red. The spoon will flutter in the tide and again attracts plaice from further out that may otherwise miss the scent of the bait.

Give 'em some bling