Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) is Europe’s most important commercial flatfish due to it thicker, meatier body and lives mostly in the open sea. It can weigh up to 7kg and grow to a meter in length. Plaice have an oval-shaped outline and are easy to identified by their brown colour and there bright orange or red spots. They have smooth lateral line unlike their cousins which are rough. The underside is white and they are able to change their colour slightly to match their surroundings. The plaice is a long-lived fish, with the oldest recorded at 50 years. In winter, plaice swim to deeper water where they spawn in the spring. When their eggs hatch, the larvae undergo a remarkable change, with the left eye moving around the head to the right side; this enables the fish to lie flat on the seabed. When this transformation happens they head for the coast were the adults feed in the warmer water in the summer months. I have caught plaice in depths between 3 to 45 meters over sand, mud and shale ground. In recent studies, fisheries biologists have said that European plaice stocks are threatened by commercial over-fishing, being targeted by every country that has a commercial boat in the water. They have no protection when spawning and no sea protected areas for them to mature. In Britain, a grouped Action Plan for commercial marine fish has been produced under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. This aims to minimise the collapse of local stocks of a number of commercially exploited marine fish. If this works, it could be a carbon copy for the rest of Europe to implement. The Irish recorded stands at 8.23lb and the specimen weight is 3.31lb.
The good old days. Terry Jackson with a shore-caught specimen plaice 4lbs 2oz from Balintoy Rocks on the Antrim coast. They are far fewer fish being caught from that spot nowadays [trawled to death]
When to start targeting plaice
You could give it a go around the end of spring all depending on how cold the winter has been. I myself would start around the second week of summer when it is that bit warmer. Although they are usually smaller at this time of year, the plaice is still an aggressive ambush predator. You will find they will take most bait especially small bits of mackerel. Many anglers catch plaice when targeting other species like dab or gurnards. Plaice on a light quiver tip rod are good fun, especially when they are over the 2lb mark. When fishing off a boat at anchor or off a shore mark the lighter the lead you can use to keep your bait on the bottom the better. This will hopefully give the tide a chance to pull the lead along the sand slowly towards a willing plaice. However, when drifting your lead should be consistently dragging along the bottom to increase your chances of finding them. Plaice are not known to come into very shallow water, unlike flounder do, for example. They usually need a few metres of water before you would have a chance of hooking one. Sandy areas next to rocky ground are also good areas to target plaice, especially near estuaries or harbours. Plaice will take almost any sea baits but rag worm and lug worm account for the majority of fish landed. Harbour rag (maddies) are also excellent plaice bait especially when tipped with peeler crab legs. Adding small bits of mackerel to your rag or lug bait for added scent will increase your chances in landing some nice plaice and remember to streamline your baits because plaice do not have big mouths. Plaice are sensitive to certain noises. They are attracted to vibration that blades, sequins and beads make. These are not necessary to add to the hook lengths but can help you land more fish. It is said that dark or dull colour beads are better than bright colours for tempting plaice to hit the moving bait however I have found no difference as yet. If drifting for plaice with a flowing trace or a wishbone bar,I would add six beads and some sequins on one hook length and four beads with a silver blade on the other one. Then I would put a six-inch long thin strip of mackerel belly on one hook and around four inches of a king rag on the other hook. These rigs have worked a treat for me in the last few years. As you can guess, like all other fish plaice have become less common in areas where there were plentiful. You can still land a few around most harbors and sandy areas were the trawlers have missed. If you should catch plaice around specimen weight, try to put it back as they are the future of our breeding stocks.
The week before I went fishing with Dan he landed this cracking specimen plaice, but unfortunately it died [not killed] due to deep hooking
When I started fishing for plaice
Like most sea anglers I have hooked and landed a few plaice by accident while fishing for other bottom dwelling fish, but it is only the last few years I got into looking for them specifically. This came about after Dan Lynch showed me a picture of a specimen plaice that he had taken only the week before. With the drool wiped from my mouth, Dan said he would take me to target them, and with the knowledge of Cork Harbour that he has I knew I was in good hands. Before my first session I called back out to his tackle shop where he went through what I needed and luckily enough I only needed some blades, sequins and a packet of spreader booms. I had everything else already from my general sea fishing. We then sat down and started to make twelve to sixteen inch hook lengths, some with beads and some with beads, sequins and blades. Then we wrapped them around the trace holders ready to go. Preparation is so important! With all the gear packed away, all we had to do was to dig enough bait and catch some mackerel. When we dig for bait, we only try to dig enough that will last us for our fishing session. It’s a bit of a waste of time otherwise. With our king rag and lug dug, our gear and Dan’s daughter on the boat we headed for the Turbot Bank in Bork Harbour. Our first job was to find some mackerel in the harbour and a good as spot as any was the main channel. As soon as we dropped our feathers our rods were rattling from the vibration of mackerel. With an enough mackerel on board, we could start our plaice session. As the tide was dropping, we headed back in towards the number 8 channel marker bouy. When we got there, we turned the engine off and started to drift. Within a few moments, the tide was taking us out slowly towards the mouth of the harbour.
[Remember there a large ships passing through this harbour every day and if you see one on the move keep your engine running until it is safely pass you]
With our hooks baited on the bottom it only took a few minutes before we were hooking some small dab and whiting. The wind was northerly that day and it was pushing us off the sand, so every once in a while Dan had to start the boat to correct our course to keep us on the fish. As we got to the mouth of the harbour Dan would start the boat and bring us back in to start a new drift. That day we had some cracking dab with one just a few ounces shy of specimen weight that was landed by young Sarah Lynch, and some plaice between 1.5lb and 2lb
Dan with two above average size inner harbour plaice that were caught at anchor on Shamrock Tackle’s Herne Bay Spreader
Sarah with a nice size dab caught on a spreader boom with rag tipped off with mackerel
I fished Cork Harbour a few times a week for plaice after that first trip, and with every other drift, I put on different rigs to see what worked best. Through the summer months, I found the fish were getting smaller instead of bigger. I believe this is down to the amount of trawlers working the harbor. To be perfectly honest I am amazed that there is any fish there at all and even more amazed that Cork Harbour is not a marine fish protected area (MPA). The last few trips this year I used Herne Bay Spreader and Tronix spreaders.
Dan with a small ling and a nice red gurnards that were caught on a Tronix spreader in over a 120feet of water
I set them up with the droppers that I had made. I found them to be deadly, especially on a slow drift and when at anchor the dab were queuing up for their turn to come on board. We had fish on every drop with some nice plaice in-between dabs, whiting and codling. I think the list is almost endless as to what this rig can catch.
My first spreader boom caught plaice that took a thin strip of mackerel
To put them to the test we decided to anchor a few miles offshore to see would these three and two hook wonders work as good as they did inside the harbour. These spreader rigs are designed to make your bait look alive. All you have to do is give them some little twitches as the lead is on the bottom and then stop for a few seconds; then repeat all over again. Any fish near them will be attracted and will hit the bait if they are faster than their competition. These rigs are good and the only downside is that there it a lot of concentration involved in working them properly. We landed loads of dab ranging from the size of your hand to nearly a pound and some cracking gurnards. Since then I have increased the size of my hooks which has resulted in landing some slightly larger fish. I recommend they should be used with at least 40lb braid for main line and 15lb line for hook lengths and 20lb line for your leads just in case you get snagged up.
Tips, Rigs and bait
 Light sensitive rod with small multiplier or fixed spool reel loaded with 40lb braid
 Spreader boom rigs, flowing two to three hook trace
 15lb to 20lb fluorocarbon line for snoods and for your leads
 Beads, silver spinner blades size 1 to 3, hooks size 6 to 1/0
 A few different size leads from 4oz up to 10 oz
 Mackerel, rag and lug for bait