Autumn Sharking – West Cornwall

Since visiting Looe as a child back in the early 1970’s I have had a fascination with shark angling and try to make at least one trip to Cornwall each season in search of blue shark. The top grounds for blue shark are undoubtedly off the West of Cornwall where a few skippers take anglers to fish the clear waters of the Atlantic off Lands End.

This year James and I met up with Bruce Elston, Jason Barrow and Pete Gregory for a trip on Lokie Adventures based in Penzance. Kieren Faisey the young skipper has a vast amount of knowledge having being ably tutored by Robin Chapman the skipper of the renowned Bite Adventures on which I and many other anglers have enjoyed many successful forays. So successful are these two skippers that it is often essential to book up over twelve months ahead to secure a booking.

As is so often the case the trip was hanging in the balance due to the weather forecast that was giving winds from the North West at varying strengths ranging from 10mph to 20mph. Past experience was that anything close to 20mph would result in a cancelled trip winds between 10mph and 15 mph would mean it was potentially doable.

There was then of course the ongoing threat of COVID-19 restrictions being imposed at any time.

Eventually two days before the trip the weather forecast indicated that we might just squeeze the trip in with a gale due to sweep in from the Atlantic the day after our trip.

James and I climbed aboard Lo Kie adventures at 07:30 with a brisk cool North West breeze sweeping across the harbour. After weeks of warm sunny weather an autumnal chill was certainly in the air as we greeted skipper Kieren and our fishing buddies.

First stop is generally to gather a bit of fresh bait within the bay. Down went our strings of feathers. Soon the pleasing rattle tattle could be felt as mackerel seized the lures and were reeled on board to be stored for bait later in the day. After twenty minutes we had a good bucket full of bait and began the long steam out to the sharking grounds. As expected the calm waters of the bay were no reflection on the sea state several miles offshore.

The boat cut through the choppy waters at a pace with the occasional larger swell sending spray high above the boat to plummet on the deck. Gannets and gulls glided above the sea with the gannets occasionally plummeting into the ocean to snuff out the life of some unsuspecting fish beneath the waves.

We chatted enthusiastically about life, fishing and the world with good humoured banter that would continue throughout the day.

It was as always a welcome moment  when eventually the engines were cut the Cornish coast now barely visible in the far distance. Kieren was immediately at work, rubby dubby sacks over the side, a basket of mashed fish suspended in the water. Shark traces un-ravelled, floats secured, baits prepared and impaled upon barbless circle hooks. The baits were paid out and set at various depths the furthest from the boat being set deepest.

Then lots were drawn with me getting number one. And so, the drift began the boat rocking and rolling in the moderate swell created by the North West breeze. Baited feathers were sent to the ocean bed many fathoms below where whiting immediately filled each string to be winched aboard to be used as shark baits.

I always consider the anticipation to be a key element in shark fishing the tension growing as the minutes tick past. Time to take in the vast panorama of the ocean and sky. The early rain had blown over to be replaced by blue skies and white clouds.

After perhaps twenty minutes a reel screamed its warning as the first shark of the day hit a bait. It was great to get the scoreboard ticking with a blue of perhaps fifty pounds. And so the day proceeded with sharks coming steadily with several double hook ups causing mayhem as  Kieren managed to miraculously weave his magic to avoid tangle lines.

It is a joy to do battle with the shark on the quality tackle provided on both Bite Adventures and Lo Kie charters. The ridiculously heavy 50lb class outfits issued by some shark skippers has been replaced by far lighter tackle that ensures the shark give a great account with plenty of screaming reels, bending rods and aching arms.

There is always the  hope that someone will hook that extra  large specimen that will be forever etched upon the mind. Several 200lb plus blues have been brought to the boats this year fish that would have been considered unlikely catches just a few years ago.

The day drifted by all too quickly with the wind steadily increasing and ominous stormy clouds building on the far horizon. Most sharks were between 50lb and 70lbs all fighting hard giving thrilling encounters. A sight that we will all remember was the arrival of a blue beside the boat nudging the dubby bag and taking chunks of whiting tossed to it. James even managed to get some amazing underwater footage on his Go Pro.

A squall passed by early afternoon with strong winds and rain lashing us as we battled with the shark. This was a taste of things to come later in the afternoon.

Three of the larger shark were brought onto the boat the biggest tamed by Jason at a calculated 109lb. Great care is taken to wet the deck before bringing the shark into the boat with the sharks carefully handled with Kieren giving strict instructions on how to hold the shark for that quick photo before its is slipped back into the depths.

Kieren was delighted to announce that we passed a milestone of 1200 sharks for the season with another month still remaining. Testament to Kieren’s dedication and hard work in putting anglers on the shark day after day.

It is interesting to look back to the so called golden era of shark angling back in the sixties and fifties when the Shark Angling Club of Great Britain sailed out of Looe. In 1955 the Looe fleet of shark boats recorded 1200 shark. These numbers grew each year as the appetite for shark fishing increased until in 1960 the total exceeded 6330. These numbers were for the entire fleet not individual boats. Sadly that generation of anglers failed to value the life of the shark with most fish despatched to be brought back to port where their carcasses were displayed as they were hauled onto the scales in-front of the ice cream licking tourists. Fortunately, all shark fishing is now catch and release with anglers now valuing the beauty of these fine fish briefly before release back into the aqua blue ocean.

It would seem that the revival of the blue shark off Cornwall is a good news story, that and the return of the tunny brings hope that our seas can prosper with good management. The fear is that overfishing will once again deplete the pilchards and mackerel that are at the base of the food chain.

Late afternoon saw storm clouds build and the wind increase. Jason battled gamely with  a good shark and grimaced as his cap was torn from his head by the fierce wind. This was extreme fishing! Nobody objected when Kieren suggested we stop at five sharks each to head back to the sheltered waters of the Bay.

The ride back was exhilarating as the boat rode the swell. We glimpsed dolphins in the boats wake, watched gannets dive and as we approached calmer waters a huge tunny leapt from the water.

We paused to catch a few mackerel for the pike fishing later in the coming winter. Dark clouds formed a perfect backdrop as the sun illuminated the towering St Michaels Mount.

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