Shark Trip – Looe

There are places that have a deep hold upon us as a result of life’s journey. Looe in South Cornwall is such a place for me as I spent many happy hours there during my childhood where fishing seeped into my soul and has never left. Pauline and often return to this vibrant seaside town for short breaks often combined as on this occasion with a fishing excursion.

The evening before the trip saw us walking familiar paths along the riverside and out onto the unique Banjo pier where I fished many times with my father half a century before. As the light faded we searched the horizon for the flashing beacon of the Eddystone light far out in the English Channel.

As we strolled back we paused to listen as the Pelynt male voice choir and guests sang in the RNLI station. Above hundreds of seagulls were flying out to sea their cry’s echoing through the air. I sensed a perspective of perpetual motion with this migration as if time had stood still since I stood here fifty years before. Where do the birds go as the night descends? Do they sleep upon the water or do they fly until the dawn to feast upon natural prey. We tend to think of the seagulls as scavengers who survive on our waste but before man they survived on natures larder. Perhaps we pay the cost of depleting the larder when these birds swoop down to steal a meal from the unwary tourist.

After a full English breakfast I set off to embark on an adventure aboard Mystique 2 with Mark Everard, Steve Hart and David Hawkins. Prospects were good with mirror calm conditions in the harbour reflecting the town and sky. On this occasion I knew that even twenty miles out the sea would be relatively calm unlike last year when we knew conditions past the island would be far from calm.

One of the joys of boat fishing is the opportunity to meet up with fellow anglers and share stories and perspectives. The fifteen mile plus cruise to the sharking grounds was on this occasion an enlightening one as Mark Everard and I chatted about a very diverse range of fishing related topics including writing, conservation, social media, ethics, travel and anglers.

 

There is always a primeval sense if anticipation in shark fishing as the engine falls silent, the rubby dubby bags are lowered into the water. The slick of fish oil spreads calming the surface, mackerel and waiting baits are impaled on large hooks. The floats bob on the surface as line is paid out each bait suspended at a different depth. Eventually four floats bob optimistically upon the sea. Lots are drawn to determine who gets first run; the stage is set.

Coffees and teas all round. The drift begins, storm petrels swoop low over the water. The ever present seagulls and fulmars drift in the oily slick. Gannets glide past and occasionally dive into the blue-green sea. Mesmerized I gaze at the floats and wonder what lies beneath. Idle chat and banter as we wait. Then the seagulls take off, do they sense a danger beneath?


The ratchet sounds, a float sinks and it’s Mark who has first turn on the rod. It’s only a small shark of thirty pounds or so but it’s success. And the start of a good day drifting.

Steve Hart hooks the biggest shark of the day a beauty estimated at 90lb. I boat a couple of small shark of 25lb to 30lb that are brought to the boat easily on the heavy tackle provided. By the time Dave calls time we had shared a catch of six shark nothing compared to the catches regularly made further West but there is still something special about a day sharking out of Looe once the capital of shark fishing in the UK and still home of the prestigious Shark Angling Club of Great Britain.

As we head back towards Looe it’s time to savour the scene. The Eddystone standing tall several miles to the East. Gannetts, a skua harassing seagulls, porpoise and dolphin head and tailing. It’s about far more than just catching fish.

I strike up a conservation with fellow angler Steve Hart. ” Whats your day job then Steve?” ” I’m a location manager “. “What’s that involve then? ” Ever seen ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ The Night Manager or Robin Hood ? Tales of film sets entertain on the Journey back to Looe.

We cruise into the harbour the tide ebbs. The quayside is lined with tourists tempting crabs lifting them from the water in a fun game that has been played by generations.

We all wave cheery goodbyes and vow to do it all again. I walk back with Mark to obtain a signed copy of his latest book.  Riverwatch – The waterside diaries of a naturalist angler.

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In search of the blues again

Once again we set out from Penzance with Robin Chapman on Bite Adventures hard to believe it was two years since our last trip when we had boated an incredible 35 sharks up to 100lb +.
There were five of us on the boat this year. Nick Smith, Pete Gregory, Rob Scoines, my son James Thomas and myself. It was Robs first shark trip and I hoped he would enjoy success and once again we were not to be disappointed.
After months of hot sunshine it was raining when we left the harbour and I was glad I had packed a few waterproofs despite the forecast that promised blue skies and hot sun.
The journey out to the shark grounds was as always full of anticipation with the thought of big blue shapes swimming through the mind. As always I relished the vast ocean panorama, the salt in the air and that vastness of sea and sky. There was of course plenty of banter and tales of previous trips. A brief pause to catch a few mackerel proved fruitless which I find a little concerning as these once prolific bait fish seem to be in serious decline.
We were close to twenty miles offshore when ”Bite Adventures” reached its destination and the welcome sound of the engine throttling down before it’s throbbing stopped. A brisk breeze was blowing promising a good drift as “Chippy” began preparing the rods and the all-important rubby-dubby.
Out went the baits at various depths suspended beneath bright green pop bottle floats that floated optimistically upon the water. These would be the main focus of attention for the next nine hours. It is hard to recall the next nine hours in detail, as it’s a blur of screaming reels, sinking floats, bent rods and aching arms. In all we caught 29 shark the biggest close to 80lb.

James battles a shark beneath a blue sky

A blue gives me a good workout

My best of the day at around 75lb

Rob Scoines holds his best shark of the day James has the tail end

As always all shark were returned carefully to the ocean. Those that were brought on shore for a quick photo were handled firmly to avoid the fish thrashing around on the deck that was washed down with cold water to minimize stress to the fish. Small circle hooks were also employed to minimize deep hooking.

Between shark some of the party enjoyed catching a few species from the ocean floor using baited feathers. Haddock and brightly coloured gurnard were a welcome distraction.

Throughout the day we enjoyed frequent cups of hot tea and coffee along with an occasional soundtrack of AC/DC. Gannets dived into sea all around; storm petrels swooped over the waves. Every moment we watched those bobbing floats and searched the water for a glimpse of shark.

A sunfish swam close by giving us a pleasing glimpse.

It was a satisfied party of anglers who journeyed back to Penzance as dolphin rolled in the wake of passing yachts and seagulls glided in our wake Next year is already booked lets just hope the weather permits another successful journey to the offshore shark grounds.

Many thanks to Robin Chapman for another superb day afloat and thanks to Happy Dangler Nick Smith for his help in sorting the trip and to Pete Gregory the Silver Fox for his tales of fishing around the world.

 

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The Majestic Wye

The Wye valley in late May early June is a landscape of near perfection with the greens of early summer so vivid and fresh.

I had secured 2 days salmon fishing with accommodation via a blind auction at the River Taw Fishery Associations AGM earler in the year and arrived at the end of May with encouraging prospects following a slight rise in river levels after weeks of dry weather. We had invited our son James and his partner Sophie to join us at this secluded Riverside Retreat beside the river. On arrival we were given a cordial welcome by Tony the ghillie. Within a few minutes the formalities were interrupted by an urgent call! One of the rods had  hooked a salmon. James, Sophie and I jumped into the Range Rover leaving my wife Pauline to unpack whilst we were taken on an exhilarating ride along the riverside fields to find an angler enjoying battle with a fine Wye salmon.

The battle was almost over by the time we arrived and Tony wielded the landing net with precision to secure the prize for Gerry. The salmon looked huge and there was a sense of joy and achievement that we all savored and were thrilled to  share. The weigh net revealed a weight of 18lb. The salmon was held carefully in the river and lifted momentarily for a couple of quick pictures before it swam strongly away to continue its journey up the majestic River Wye.

To see such a fine fish was certainly inspiring but a comment that an angler spends an average of 250 hours fishing per Wye salmon puts the fishing into perspective and is an illustration of the achievement and of the sad decline in salmon numbers in recent times. Of course success can come at any time and if the fly or lure is in the right place at the right time then success can come as we saw.

It was now time to head back grab a snack and a drink before commencing upon our own fishing adventure. The River Wye glided past as we savoured the scene. Swans glided gracefully across the water, ducks upended foraging for food. The occasional fish broke the surface as mayflies hatched here and there. The quiet flowing river was a scene we would savour over the next couple of days to catch a fish would be a bonus.

Tony told us that several shad had been caught recently and whilst these are a protected species it was likely that they would intercept a fly or spinner intended for salmon. As I had never caught a shad I was  delighted when within just a few minutes I had caught and returned one of these hard fighting fish.

The rare allis shad

These handsome looking fish closely resemble herring with their silver sides and glittering scales. They are sometimes referred to as Mayfish because they migrate into freshwater to spawn in late May and early June. They are considered rare now but this certainly did not seem to be the case as James and I must have caught  close to thirty during the two day stay on the river. For their size they give a spirited account frequently leaping from the water and shaking their heads like miniature tarpon . The fish are now only regularly caught from three Rivers in the UK. The Wye, Usk and the Severn. I have heard accounts of these fish being seen and occasionally caught from the Taw and other Devon Rivers and know of the occasional one caught in nets in the local estuaries. These migratory species are a fascinating part of our rivers wildlife and increasingly vulnerable to a wide range of factors. Salmon, sea trout, shad, lamprey, silver eels and sturgeon are all part of that group of fish that live parts of their lives in the contrasting worlds of salt and freshwater. Like the swallows and martins that swoop over the river there delicate lives are a wonder of the world that should be appreciated.

James with a shad

And so our adventure on the river began over two days wondering the river bank rod in hand punctuated by meals on the porch over looking the river with the regal swans arrogantly dominating the scene. Ducklings dashed to and fro grabbing hatching flies. The occasional fish broke the surface to suck in a mayfly. The river banks were decorated in the glorious colours of wild flowers.

Wild flowers of the river bank

Tony the ghillie gave valuable advice and many words of wisdom as he told of taking lies and many were illustrated with an intriguing tale of a big fish taken from the spot. His enthusiasm and love for the river was inspiring and I feel sure this has helped many visitors to the river live out their dreams. A river has many tales to tell with many anglers wandering its banks over the decades. The river here has produced some magnificent salmon over the years with twenty-pounder’s relatively common and thirty pound fish a possibility. There is also a healthy population of barbel, big chub, perch and pike to over thirty pounds.

Tony ferry’s an angler to the far bank

A thundery evening in the vale

Throughout much of our stay the river valley was shrouded in mist with light rain and drizzle. On the second night a thunderstorm drifted in across the vale giving an awesome display of natures power. This was an ideal time to visit the local pub for a delicious meal.

Reading the water is a vital part of river fishing and I was pleased that many lies I identified were confirmed as good spots by Tony. The river is far from completely natural as many croys have been built to create taking spots and give anglers a casting platform. Huge boulders have been carefully placed to create lies for resting salmon and the banks have been strengthened and walkways built to make the anglers task a little easier. One valuable piece of advice I took away was to fish the water close to the bank first before extending the line across the water. I realise that all too often I cast my line across the river and may on occasion miss the water at my feet. The Wye is of course a much bigger river than the Devon rivers that I am used to and if I had to draw comparisons I would liken the Wye to the Taw with its sedate pace and waving strands of weed. I fished the fly using my switch rod and managed to cover most of the river with a degree of competence. Though the ability to Spey cast well would have been a distinct advantage. I also covered the river with a Flying “C” which seemed rather strange to be able to cast a spinner and feel that throbbing of the blade as it searched the water to entice the resting salmon. Spinning is rightly restricted on many rivers depriving the anglers of a useful tool in the search for salmon.

As I cast my spinner across a particularly good looking stretch of river I felt a gentle tug on the line as something touched the spinner. Moments later a gleaming bar of silver erupted from the water giving me a glimpse of the rivers treasure that will live in my minds eye till my dying day. I leave you with a few views of the river on the morning of our departure as the jogger passing by commented “close to heaven isn’t it?”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Glorious Blank

I had an invite to Join a long term fishing friend at Pike Fishing Mecca Chew Valley Lake and whilst I find the hike in prices since fishing began there a little disconcerting I was not about to turn down the offer. I always relish a trip to Chew Valley for it is Lake where you know that next cast could bring the fish of a lifetime. And it had done just that for several anglers already during the first few days of the trial with one fish boated at 39lb 14oz.

Bruce Elston and I arrived at the lodge and started the day with a hearty full English whilst we caught up on old times and chatted on the prospects for the day ahead. The Lake was mirror calm beneath a blue winter sky.

We loaded our gear into boat and I noted the frosty gunnels and icy seats.

We were one of last boats to leave the jetty not because we were less keen it was just that I believe we wanted to savour the day and not rush around.

Its strange but there is something daunting about the size of Chew Valley Lake. The huge pike that dwell within are what dreams are made of yet finding them can be a challenge. As a  sea angler used to fishing in vast areas of water you would think this lake fishing would seem easy for you know the fish are there. The problem is that the pike have seen it all before and they do not need to feed every day.

We set out onto the lake and headed for an area we thought might produce; trolling a couple of lures slowly in the hope of tempting a lurking monster. It was great to drop the anchor and launch our baits out. The crimson topped floats settled optimistically upon the calm lake and we poured a coffee and took in the surroundings.

It was great to chat with Bruce about pike fishing and past times. Our paths have crossed over the years and we have fished many waters. It was over thirty years ago that I first met up with Bruce and the Somerset pike fishers on the banks of Durleigh Reservoir and on the Somerset Levels. Reminiscing about those piking days made me determined to pay more attention to Esox for I realise that they are still one of my favourite fish.

The day like all fishing days drifted past all too quickly. We cast lures, trolled dead baits and fished static baits trying areas that we knew had produced in the past. As the light began to fade the lakes surface resembled a giant mirror reflecting the sky. The cry of gulls drifted across the water and airline vapor trails patterned the evening sky.

Right up until the last cast of the day we both believed it could happen that float could bob and then disappear beneath the surface in a sublime moment. It could be a jack of  a few pounds or mammoth pike that fills a fishers dreams.

Back at the jetty at close of play we heard that there had been five pike caught of over thirty pounds along with several twenties. These are the fish that will grace to pages of the angling papers. The blank days will not feature and many will be tempted to the lake in search of dreams. I will be back and one day that fish of dreams will grace my net. It will not make me a better angler.  Can success be measured in pounds and ounces, the true joy is in the chase and most successful angler is the one who enjoyed his day. It was indeed a glorious blank.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Looe Sharking

The weather controls our fishing opportunities to a large degree especially boat fishing so as a windy spell of Westerly wind persisted it seemed unlikely that we would get out of Looe in South Cornwall. When Pauline and I arrived on a cold blustery afternoon I was more than a little pessimistic.
After checking into our hotel I gave the skipper Dave Bond of Mystique 2 a call. With storm Aileen moving in as we spoke I was surprised when Dave sounded optimistic. “It’s a flooding tide and Westerly we got out today and its no worse for tomorrow. It will be bit rough!” “We will go out and have a look if your happy we will fish”.
I have long standing connections with Looe as it was to a large extent where I started my fishing journey float fishing for garfish, mackerel and Pollock from the Banjo Pier in the late sixties and early seventies. From those early beginnings and crabbing on the quayside I progressed to grey mullet and from there to the occasional boat trip. Each night the shark boats would return to port with their catches of blue shark whose carcasses were hauled aloft on the scales at the headquarters of the Shark Angling Club of Great Britain. Looking back this was a disgraceful waste but it was what was done then a sign of the times and a prevalent disregard for the fragility of the planet. Fortunately today no sharks are killed with a catch and release policy in place for close to thirty years. The good news is that shark numbers are on the increase.

At 06:45 I walked along the familiar quay to the waiting boat. Shortly after 7.00am we steamed out of Looe harbour past the Banjo as the sun rose to the East above Rame Head. It was surprisingly calm but I knew things would change as we ventured out past the shelter of Looe Island!
Mystique 2 is a large catamaran that bounced over the rough sea with ease. We watched the only other shark boat to venture out Swallow 2 bouncing over the rough water. On route to the sharking grounds 14 or 15 miles offshore we glimpsed a couple of porpoise playing in the boats wake. It was an exhilarating ride of close to one and half hours and I was relieved when we eventually arrived as I was feeling a little jaded by the journey in a rough sea.
It was certainly very fishable from the wide stable deck and optimism was high as the baits went out. We had elected to set up three shark rods in the traditional format with the furthest bait deepest and nearest shallowest. The stinking rubby dubby bags were lowered over the side. We elected to draw lots with Jonathon Hellyer getting number 1 and me number 2. We feathered up fresh mackerel baits and whiting.


It was tea and coffees all around as the waiting began. Time to absorb the seascape around the storm petrels wheeling above the waves like swallows above a lake. The surging sea of white and blue as far as the eye could see. The shark floats bobbing optimistically upon the water.


After half an hour the rasping sound of a ratchet signalled a shark had discovered a bait. Jonathon grabbed the rod and followed instructions from Dave the skipper. Disappointingly the hook failed to find a home and the first chance had gone. Jonathon sighed that that he had missed out. Nonsense I told him you didn’t hook it so you get another go. A few minutes later the ratchet again rang out and this time Jonathon connected with a rather small blue shark that was no bigger than the average spurdog.


Fifteen minutes or so later it was to be my turn and I picked up the rod with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I relished this degree of control deciding when to set the hook. I didn’t pause for long putting the reel into gear and waiting as the line tightened before leaning back and winding hard on the reel handle driving the hook home. It was immediately clear that this was a far bigger fish. Somewhere between 50 and 100 yards of line were ripped from the reel as the heavy rod bent over. For the next fifteen minutes I worked hard as line was gained and lost. Eventually we caught sight of the shark in the clear water a fine shark and my biggest blue without a doubt. After measuring the fish it was placed carefully into my arms for picture.

It was a bloody heavy weight and I struggled to hold it aloft for long. Dave calculated the fish at 101lb; I looked up the weight conversion chart when I got home and calculated a weight of 82lb. At over seven feet long it was a fine shark and a qualifier for the prestigious Shark Angling Club of Great Britain. This fishing is really very literally luck of the draw for we had two further shark on board and none of them would have weighed more than 25lb.
I was elated to have boated such a splendid fish and at last caught that fish from Looe where I started my fishing journey all those years ago. The day passed by all too quickly I knew my day was done; yet I still gazed in anticipation at the floats willing one of them to plunge beneath the surface for I always feel this is team game.

Shark On!

The wind gathered strength and one particularly large wave actually came over the sides of the boat. For a short while the sea seemed to calm a little and Dave talked of the Perfect Storm and how in the book the sea calmed before the tempest. He was right for shortly after the wind increased and heavy rain fell from a dark sky. A pod of porpoises appeared beside the boat and showed majestically amongst the turmoil of the sea.
The squall soon passed by and once again blue sky surrounded us. We headed back to Looe with four sharks between the five of us. The previous day one angler had boated 30 sharks aboard Swallow 2. Today they had only landed 2 an illustration of the unpredictability of sharking.

Pennants are displayed on return to port illustrating how many shark have been landed. In this case one qualifier and four shark.


Back in Looe Pauline had been exploring the shops in the narrow streets of Looe. That evening we celebrated success with a delicious meal  and drink in Trawlers Fish Restaurant.


We will return to Looe next year I hope ad once again enjoy adventure on the high seas. A return to Looe always brings with it a mixture of emotions with the passing of time and many memories from visits’ through the years. I guess Looe has to be one of my favourite places, where the rise and fall of the tide has a reassuring continuity at the heart of the town.

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FISHING IN A TWILIGHT ZONE

It was late evening and we drifted upon the tide, the sun sinking beneath a horizon of mountains and sea. It had been quiet on the halibut front and our confidence was ebbing. Rob glanced at his smart phone; Steve Perks had gone live! Up in the Rotsund a drama was unfolding a big fish and a well bent rod with running commentary. The sequence ended before conclusion?
“Lets take a ride up the Rotsund, we can have an hours fishing and see what’s happening’ suggested James and Rob. Ok let’s go I replied and we were off. It was now around 11.30pm.


We soon found Steve and Jaky drifting on a mirror calm Fjord. They called us over bubbling with enthusiasm. Tethered on a rope beside the boat was a fine cod of 37lb 8oz. The battery had expired on their smartphones and they hoped someone would come and take a picture. We of course obliged and shared their obvious delight.


The Rotsund was bathed in a mystical twilight the sun had sunk beneath the mountains its rays illuminating the snowy peaks and painting the sky in subtle shades of pink and gold. Not a breath of wind stirred the mysterious dark water. The enchanting sounds of sheep bells drifted across Stillwater’s.


We cast our lures on light spinning rods allowing them to sink 50metres beneath the boat as we drifted slowly on the tide. We worked the lures back and delighted in the savage hits as cod attacked the lures on a frequent basis. Our excited voices and those of Jaky and Steve carried in the still arctic air; a contagious enthusiasm enveloped us all in an orgy of bent rods and screaming reels.
When the action eases we simply move on and find more feeding cod. Many of the fish are double figure fish their flanks decorated with nature’s artistic flair.
It’s around 2.00am when I glance across at Robs excessively bent spinning rod. At first I assume he has snagged the bottom but then I see that tell tale lunge as the rod absorbs something moving far below; its all fish!


Rob looks slightly alarmed and has no control of what he has hooked. James steps in with sound advice. “Steady pressure, no rush the fish will tire you have all night!”
The battle ebbs and flows over the next forty five minutes. The cod continue to feed and numerous double fish are brought to the boat and released as Robs epic struggle continues, a small white mark on his braid appearing at the rod tip repeatedly before disappearing once again into the depths as hard won line is stripped again from the reel.
Eventually it is clear that patience is paying dividends the runs get shorter and whatever is on the line is tiring. Suddenly the lines angle climbs in the water and we gaze with anticipation. I hold the gaff in readiness; we gasp in awe at the sight of a huge cod appearing on the surface ten metres from the boat. Rob coaxes’ to the side of the boat and I slip the gaff carefully into the lower jaw. With a heave the fish is on the deck in all its glory. Triumphant cries ring out and we call Jaky and Steve to the boat.


The cod is placed carefully into the weigh sling, the scales read 43lb 5oz and we subtract the weight of the sling, which gives a weight of 41lb! A few pictures to capture the moment and the fish lowered over the side in the weigh sling. Our friends boat drifts adjacent and Jaky grabs the cod working it carefully in the water until its tail gives a powerful kick and the mighty fish glides powerfully back into the dark depths of the Rotsund.


We have a few casts savouring the memories of a magical night afloat. The sun is rising above the mountains once again and its time to head back for a bit of sleep its nearly 5.00am after all.
By 10:30am we are back on the lake as a brisk wind puts white caps on a blue sea. The mountains tower majestically decorated with white snow and forests of green. We once again find the fish; James tames a 26lb cod on his St leger Spinning Rod. We all enjoy some great sport for an hour but it’s a brisk wind and it’s not too comfortable.

James has a desire to climb a mountain and so after a bit of lunch we hike up above the treeline to savour the view. Wow what a view it is on top of the world.
I stand on a boulder looking out over the dramatic vista chatting to Pauline back in Devon. It’s a grand place planet earth!


It’s a good job we climbed the mountain that day for the next few days saw low cloud descend shielding the grandeur of the mountains. “Its like Minehead”, exclaimed James!
Havnnes Handelssted “ Artic Paradise” It states “ Norway’s “best Place to fish”. http://www.giaever.net


I could try and write more and will in due course but words cannot paint a full picture. The fishing is not as easy as many think I personally had a very lucky trip landing several outstanding specimens pictured here.

Coalfish 32lb 5oz

cod 38lb

Halibut 47lb

cod 32lb

Friendships grow with a shared bond of appreciation amongst anglers on an adventure that transcends normality.


Strangely I felt invigorated as we fished through night and day, a little fatigued at times perhaps but not unduly so. Lack of sleep of course caught up when we got home and back to work.

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Stillwater Trout

 

I have rather neglected this blog over recent months as I have been working hard on my other project North Devon Angling News but I realise I should still try to keep up the blog so from now on I will post a few tales from my excursions outside of North Devon.


Springtime is the time that I often target Still-water Trout and one of my favourite local waters is Clatworthy in Somerset where I was privileged to join England International Matt Kingdom and Seth Tuson who fishes with the England Youth team. Both anglers are extremely keen and far more in tune with modern fly-fishing tactics. Though what I lack in the latest techniques I probably make up for with dogged persistence and a feel for the water built up in over forty years of fly-fishing.
We arrived at Clatworthy shortly after 9.00am and enjoyed a coffee and a chat with Danny Ford who used to work with South West lakes Trust. Danny is now furthering his career with Wessex Water and from what we saw its been good move.
It was a bright sunny day with a cool wind blowing down the lake. Danny advised a good area, which meant a good, trek though the woods to the far shore.

On route we glanced over the dam wall to glimpse several good-sized rainbows cruising to and fro.
We arrived at our chosen area that looked inviting with crystal clear water. Our early optimism soon ebbed and we realised that this wasn’t going to be one of those quick bag up days. Persisting with a team of small buzzers we all eventually started to catch full finned hard fighting rainbows.


We had arranged to leave at around 5.00pm, as Seth had to meet with his father who had delivered him to the lake this morning. After fifty; last casts we eventually dragged ourselves away with a hard earned catch for the day. I landed brace with Matt and Seth landing a brace each. A hard days fishing like this with the fish well earned are often far more enjoyable and rewarding than those days when the fish are easy to catch and the limit is reached within a couple of hours.

Matt Kingdom and Seth Tuson

A few weeks later I joined members of Wistlandpound Fly Fishing Club on what was the hottest day of the year to date. The lake was like a mirror with bright blue sky, far from Ideal conditions.

Blagdon is a historic fishery that dates back to before the First World War when Hugh Tempest Sheringham wrote of the fishery in his excellent tome, ‘An Open Creel’. In 1905 he wrote “ I made first acquaintance with the wonderful Somersetshire Lake which has inspired so many angling rhapsodies, and then I was a yeartoo late. By that I mean a year too late for great baskets of monsters running from four pounds to eight or nine pounds. It will, I trust, never be too late for a fisherman to know and love Blagdon. It is still, and always will be, a delightful place, and though its fishing has altered in character, I am not sure that it is not even more interesting now than it was of old.”

This was my second visit to Blagdon and my first over twelve months prior to this was a blank with bitter cod North East Wind lashing the lake. Today the conditions were a complete contrast. I was sharing a boat with Matt Kingdom and I was confident that his experience at the lake would at least give us the chance of a few fish.

After purchasing our tickets in the historic lodge we loaded our boats and headed out onto the still waters. I gazed into the clear waters. As we pushed out over beds of weed I was thrilled to glimpse rainbow trout gliding through hunting for food.

I set up with a long leader fished in conjunction with a slow sinking line. On the point I fished a small black booby with two buzzers on droppers a couple of feet further back. We commenced fishing in clear areas amongst the weed beds and it was not long before I hooked into a hard fighting rainbow. Matt persisted with a midge tip line and a team of buzzers and soon joined the action.

After early success we moved on fishing large areas of the lake with limited success. The day drifted by upon a glassy expanse of water with blue sky and white cotton wool clouds. The rolling hills of lush green surrounded the lake, the Red Arrows flew over and we cast our lines. In the late afternoon the bells from Blagdon Village church rang out creating a timeless atmosphere. I wonder how much different the lake is to now to how it  it was in H T Sheringham’s day?

At the end of the day Matt and I shared the honours with five fish each. Luck was on my side with a weight of 13lb 4oz two pounds up on Matt’s 11lb 4oz. Other members had struggled with a several trout to 4lb 8oz landed with third place falling to Colin Combes with a brace for just over 6lb.

I will return to Blagdon, it’s not always the easiest fishing but it has true pedigree and its waters contain fine fish and to fish here is follow in the footsteps of some of England’s greatest anglers.

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CORNISH VENTURE

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I have always had a love of Cornwall enjoying many holidays to the county over the years and have recently returned from a very enjoyable week staying at Mixtow near Fowey.
The house we stayed in had a rich history the author Kenneth Graham once stayed within and was inspired to write his classic children’s book “The Wind In the Willows”. Pauline and I hired a boat and enjoyed several excursions out onto the river.
We were fortunate to have a pontoon on the river where I was able to fish for grey mullet. We shared the pontoon with a good natured angler called Tim who also had a passion mullet. Tim was fishing with a twenty-foot match rod and told me that he could only catch mullet fishing within inches of the riverbed. Listening to this I set up with quiver tip rod and fished bread flake on the bottom. My first session saw the rod tip rattle but I failed to connect.

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Early next morning I set up with my standard float fishing gear and introduced a few handfuls of ground up bread. Several mullet were present and I was hopeful of success. Tim came down to jetty to launch his boat and while we chatted I landed a brace of mullet the best close to 3lb.

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The early morning sessions were a joy with the river calm and still and the cooing of doves reverberating through the valley.

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Fowey and the surrounding area have a rich angling history and I was fascinated to be staying opposite the China Clay Jetties were previous generations of anglers had enjoyed success with large conger. Whenever I visit Cornwall I take along my old copy of Sea Fishing In Cornwall by Hugh Stoker.These fascinating angling guides are excellent reads giving glimpses of fishing history and also illustrating how times have changed.

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I addition to the Fowey estuary we were also close to some spectacular rock rocks where I had a few casts for wrasse using soft plastics. On my second cast I had one lure bitten clean in half but failed to actually hook the fish.

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A return visit will need to be made as there is so much fishing potential around this beautiful Cornish coastline.

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LIVING THE DREAM

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I have fond memories of childhood days spent in the Cornish fishing town of Looe in Cornwall for it was there that my obsession with angling began. We went there for our family holiday each autumn and I caught small Pollock, mackerel and garfish float fishing from the Banjo Pier. As I grew older I caught mullet and the occasional bass and wrasse.
There was at this time another factor that held my attention and filled me with fascination. Each evening the boats would return from their day at sea. Charter boats with catches of Pollock, whiting, ling and conger from a day ‘Deep Sea Fishing’. Commercial boats with all manner of fish to admire as they were boxed up on ice ready for distribution, but top of the agenda for me was the sight of the shark being brought in by the shark anglers to be weighed in at the headquarters of the ‘Shark Angling Club of Great Britain’. These huge fish filled me with awe as they were hoisted aloft blood dripping from their gills and wounds. After putting a weight to the carcass the bodies were carted unceremoniously away to be used I assume as fertilizer. The men who worked there were hard working macho characters, their skin sun burnt and wrinkled like old leather after years of exposure to sea air and sunshine.

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I imagined what it would be like to venture far out to sea beyond the horizon in search of these mighty fish. Those days were the ending of an era. Days when many believed the oceans bountiful fish stocks to be endless; that god provided an endless inexhaustible harvest for mankind.
Looking back now the slaughter of these magnificent creatures for a trophy shot at the weighing station was a disgusting waste,typical of mankind’s destructive ethos, the same ignorance that had wiped the dodo and many other creatures from this magnificent planet. But it is  wrong to judge those earlier generations who had a different mindset to today built upon the values of a society at the time.
Close to fifty years on I have lived that boyhood dream but without the senseless slaughter. Today blue shark are caught, admired and released to continue there nomadic existence wondering the oceans.
I had caught porbeagle shark off the North Cornish coast and on one occasion fished for blue shark off Looe without success. This was the third August James and I had travelled to Penzance to fish aboard the renowned Charter Boat, ‘Bite Adventures’ skippered by respected shark expert Robin Chapman ‘Chippy’. The two previous years we had been beaten by the weather but this year it was systems go.
Chippy has brought a degree of finesse to the shark angling world providing anglers with quality balanced tackle from his sponsors “Fin-Nor”. None of the old style broom handles and fifty pound class plus gear used in the olden days. This gear enables the anglers to do battle, enjoy it savouring the power and speed of the blue shark.
Five of us set out from Penzance, on an early August Sunday. Nick Hart, Pete Gregory, Chris Lambert, My son James and I. After stopping off to fill the bait box with fresh mackerel in the bay it was time to open the throttle and head for the horizon.
The twin hulled catamaran bounced over the lively sea, we clung on grimly. I heard someone comment; “This supposed to be fun??” James took it in his stride likening it to an exhilarating theme park ride. I was just pleased to be heading out to fulfill a child hood dream.
Eventually we arrived having found water clarity to Chippy,s satisfaction. Lots were drawn from 1 to 5; I drew number 1! James number 5. I offered to swap with him but he was content to learn as he watched the other more experience anglers do battle. The top came off the rubby-dubby tub and an aroma drifted through the air that undoubtedly contributed to one member of the parties’ bout of sea sickness.

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Out went the baits; fresh mackerel flappers on 14/0 circle hooks suspended at various depths beneath brightly colored pop bottles. The oily slick from the dubby bags spread out in the wake of the drifting boat. Storm petrol’s swooped low over the sea, fulmars bobbed on the water. I hummed silently to myself a song I remembered from my childhood days.
So we sailed up to the sun
Till we found the sea of green
And we lived beneath the waves
In our yellow submarine
We all live in a yellow submarine
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine
We all live in a yellow submarine
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine

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The daydream was soon interrupted when the bottle plunged beneath the waves and chippy thrust the rod into my hands. The rod took a pleasing curve; the reel sang its song and the battle commenced. The shark eventually came to the boat and I was thrilled to pose with it for a quick photo before watching it glide majestically away in the clear water.

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Sweeter than my own triumph was to see James playing his first shark; rod bending, reel singing, arm aching and eventual triumph holding the fish aloft with me at the tail end.

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We went on to share 35 shark, seven each averaging 50lb to 60lb. My biggest estimated at 70lb, James biggest at 85lb and the biggest of the day to Chris Lambert at around 100lb.

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The whole day was very much a team effort lead by Chippy who both found the fish and hooked the fish.
The day goes down as one of life’s best the fulfillment of a childhood dream one off the bucket list I guess. Though I will of course be back to catch that 100lb plus fish and to once again float in anticipation upon a sea of green beneath a sky of blue.

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An adventure in the land of the midnight sun

IMG_2795There is far more to fishing than catching fish a phrase I have often uttered especially when success has not been as forthcoming as I perhaps hoped. But on our recent excursion to Norway we enjoyed success with big fish along with adventure in a far off land with spectacular scenery and great company of like minded anglers.
Havennes Handellsted is a trading post in Northern Norway established in the 1800’s it has a unique atmosphere situated on an Island between the Lyngen fjord and the Rotsund Fjord, a spectacular backdrop of the snow capped Lyngen Alps to the west and the towering mainland to the East. The journey from South West England is a grueling one lasting close to twenty four hours. We flew from London Gatwick to Oslo, from Oslo to Tromso and then close to four hours transfer by mini bus before collecting a boat for the final furlong across the Rotsund.
There were 12 of us on the expedition that had been well organized by Craig Butler who spends much of his working life in Minehead Harbour, manning West Coast Tackle, carrying out harbor Master duties or guiding anglers. We were a mixed bunch from varied backgrounds sharing a love of fish and fishing. My son James and our mate Rob Scoines were sharing a house with three total strangers. Jaky the Chef, Steve Perkins and Mike Spiller, they were of course strangers for a very short time becoming good friends and sharing good humored banter as if we had know each other for years.
Its always difficult knowing where to set expectations on such an adventure as the stories of huge numbers of big fish can be misleading. I know from experience that big fish do not generally come easily and have to be earned wherever you seek them. There is also the question of what constitutes a big fish?
The fish we could expect to catch would be fish of a lifetime in the UK and it is important to keep a true perspective. My son James had no expectations just hoping to catch a few fish larger than he could catch at home. I set my sights a little higher hoping to catch a halibut, a wolf fish, twenty pound plus cod, big coalfish and a few other bonus species. Top priority was of course to enjoy.
On arrival at Havenness we embarked upon a little fun fishing from the pier casting out small jigs to catch a succession of small coalfish and haddock. Others targeted specimen dab landing numerous fish to well over the 1lb. The waters are crystal clear and it was obvious from the start how rich in fish life the waters were with haddock and coalfish abundant and visible.

First fishes

First fishes

After moving into our accommodation we were given instructions on how to drive the boats and given advice on safety and allocated a reassuring GPS emergency alarm to summon help if required. It has to be remembered that the environment can be hostile the sea demands respect and does not tolerate fools.

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On that first afternoon we overcame fatigue quite easily and set out to explore the calmer waters of the Rotsund. This was a steep learning curve and whilst we listened intently to advice we had a lot to learn. On that first afternoon we did not venture far content to search the margins looking for features and casting our lures into depths generally less that 30 meters. Numerous plump cod up to around 8lb brought pleasing sport. Eventually my lure was seized by something larger and after an exciting tussle a double figure wolf fish was swung aboard twisting and gyrating whilst flashing its formidable dentistry. At 11lb 2oz it was pleasing start to the week and one of my goals achieved.

Wolf Fish

Wolf Fish

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The second day saw us heading further up into the Rotsund exploring the deeper waters. Success came to us fishing depths of over 100 meters using standard sized sidewinder lures fished on a long flowing trace. Lowered to the bottom and retrieved slowly to the surface. The takes when they came were spectacular savage tugs followed by a crash dive that set the reels singing. My son and Rob used 12lb to 20lb class boat rods whilst I used a 7ft St Leger Custom made Spinning rod that enhanced each battle. I had at first doubted the wisdom of using such light rods but soon realized that the American blanks had far more backbone than first impressions had given and I felt confident that I could tame any coalfish I hooked given a little bit of time. There were after all no snags to worry about. In addition to the coalfish we also caught several cod though not as big as we hoped for with fish averaging between 6lb and 10lb.

Big Coalfish for James and Rob

Big Coalfish for James and Rob

The coalfish were awesome fish averaging close to twenty pounds my best on the spinning rod a pleasing 24lb. The only downside to the spectacular scarps offered by the coalfish was that few of them survived and had to be taken back to Havnnes where they were donated to anyone who wished to make use of them.

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The spectacular surroundings were well worth exploring and the boats enabled us to venture over a wide area weather permitting. Well know fish producing areas were visited with huge shoals of fish often visible on the fish finder. A visit to the North of the Island rewarded us with several cod the biggest to our boat a pleasing fish of 22lb 2oz.

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The shallower waters close to our base have a reputation for producing giant halibut and it was from here that Craig Butler brought ashore the fish of a lifetime. We were fishing from the pier when we heard excited calls from their boat as they approached the harbor. Some of our party feared there had been an accident but fortunately it was cries of anguish they heard but cries of triumph.

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The witnessing of the fish Craig had caught was to be one of the highlights of the week, the mighty fish weighing in at 101lb 7oz. IMG_3023

The thought of such huge fish residing within the waters you are fishing is both inspiring and slightly scary. We of course set out ourselves to fish for halibut most evenings and sometimes during the day. We landed five in our boat for the week James the biggest at 15lb whilst I managed a couple of 13lb flatties. The loss of a big fish by James early in the week taught him a vital lesson regarding the importance of carefully tying knots!

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The nights were magical afloat on the boat drifting in the hope of outsize halibut whilst the sun sank only partially on the horizon illuminating far off mountains to create a vista fit for a Lord of the Rings type epic. The cry of the arctic terns and the thrill call of oyster catchers on the shore adding to a magical and surreal atmosphere.

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Midnight

Midnight

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The Lyngen Fiord stretched to the West the Lyngen Alps towering above the sea glaciers providing a constant feed to waterfalls that plunge spectacularly into the deep clear waters. When the weather permitted we travelled to fish beneath the towering cliffs where we caught a variety of species including ling, cod, torsk, redfish, haddock and coalfish. Within a few meters of the cliffs the water was over a hundred meters in depth dropping to over well 200 meters.

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Sea birds were often the key to locating fish puffins with their comical brightly coloured beaks often struggling to get airborne their crops full of sandeel or whitebait. On the last day of our stay we were heading for a mark made known to us by a friendly party of Irish anglers. We came across a population of birds on the surface. James insisted that we should drop our lines. I suggested it better to forge on to our intended mark. The water was over two hundred meters deep and no fish were showing on the sounder. We gave it a try and as I declared it a fish-less zone my rod tip jagged down as a large coalfish smashed into my lure. The next hour and a half saw us enjoy some hectic sport with eleven coalfish coming to the boat with James landing a nice brace of doubles using his St Leger Renegade lure rod.

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Sadly the wind picked up and we were forced to retreat back to the comfort of the halibut grounds where we enjoyed the final few hours of our week. This session resulted in another small halibut of around 7lb.One of the other boats managed to bring in 50lb plus fish highlighting the small margin between success and relative failure for it would seem that the size of halibut you hook is all down to luck of the draw.
The week passed by all too quickly and there was a degree of envy when our friends arrived on the Island with a week ahead of them and the water like a sheet of glass beneath a brilliant blue sky.

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The long trek back to England gave plenty of time to reflect on catches made and start to make plans for a return trip. Whilst we had been successful we knew that there was potential to catch more and bigger fish. I had planned the trip as the trip of a lifetime with the added pleasure of taking along my son James who had just finished University. The lure of big fish and far off lands is strong and life is short I have a feeling this lifetime will see a return trip!

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