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.
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.
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.