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.

Thats me in the shorts fascinated by the sharks ! so good that those days of need less slaughter are consigned to the history book.

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.

www.redgill.co.uk

The Frustrating Mullet

September is one of my favourite months for fishing and grey mullet are high on the agenda though they can often live up to their difficult to tempt reputation. This has certainly been the case over the past week with three sessions bringing little success. The first session saw me spend three hours in a favoured spot at the right state of tide. Not a bite but the fish and chips were good as was the sunset.

The next trip saw me visit a local harbour that gave shelter from the strong North East Wind. It was one of the biggest tides of the year and I arrived a couple of hours before the top of the tide and started getting rattles on the rod tip straight away. I assumed the fish were mostly small mullet. As darkness fell I missed the bite of the night prompting a couple more last casts.

Two days later I was back at first light and enjoyed two hours of the flood tide with barely a rattle on the rod tip. The morning sun lit up the bay and boats bobbed upon moorings illuminated by the light. A North East wind is seldom good and was my excuse as passing walkers enquired if I had caught.

As the tide began to ebb the fish switched on and the tip began to rattle frantically as soon as the bait touched down. A tiny mullet was swung to hand could this be classed a saving a blank? Next cast the tip thumped round with a proper bite. A decent mullet of perhaps three pounds gave a spirited tussle before throwing the hook!  “”******************

Small mullet swarmed in the shallow water but no more decent fish could be seen. I packed away twenty minutes later reflecting on the frustrations of wily mullet.

Angling Generations

Norman Bird was a founder member of Combe Martin Sea Angling Club and I was fortunate to join the club ten years after his son Nigel who joined the club in 1963. Nigel and I fished together with the club on many occasions during the seventies and early eighties and now fish together from time to time with the Wistlandpound Fly Fishing Club. I was pleased fo receive this picture from Nigel showing his grandson George enjoying his first fishing trip with his grandad at Bratton Water where they enjoyed catching a fine bag of rainbow and brown trout.

It is great to see the generations as they discover the joys of angling. For many years I enjoyed trips out of Combe Martin on George Eastmans boat Star of Scillionia PW265.  and was also privileged to help out from time to time hauling lobster pots and taking trips around the bay. Those glorious summer days were greatly enhanced by Georges great grandad George Eastman of whom I have many fond memories . Much has changed over the years but I still feel a sense of belonging when I stroll upon the foreshore at Combe Martin reminiscing upon a lifetime of encounters within the bay.

Footnote – Nigel traced Star of Scillionia PW265 around the West Country over the years from the Isles of Scilly to the Helford Passage were she was finally decommissioned and broken up.

Luring An Evening brace

As autumn descends upon us the evenings draw in and it seems essential to try and fit in those short evening sessions with the lure rod before darkness descends and many of us turn to bait fishing. There is of course the opportunity to catch bass after dark with the lure but this is something I always intend to try but tend to shy away from as I feel slightly uncomfortable wading the boulder strewn marks I prefer whilst fishing alone.

This season I have fished far more using weedless soft plastics and have enjoyed some success using the Megabass spindle worms.  This 5.5 inch lure gives me confidence as it is retrieved sending a pleasing pulsing action back through the light braid to the rod. I love fishing really shallow water as the tide floods in and have discovered that the bass will move into water less than a foot deep.

Whilst I carry a selection of lures I only tend to alternate between half a dozen patterns.

I arrived at my chosen mark as the tide was starting to flood and searched the shallow boulder strewn foreshore after ten minutes a flash of silver appeared just a few feet from where I stood slamming into the lure with ferocity. After a spirited battle at close range the bass of around 3lb 8oz was beached.

I fished on confident of further success and twenty minutes later the lure was hit by a far bigger fish that made an impressive reel screaming dash for freedom in the shallow water. A handsome bass of around 6lb was admired and its image captured before release.

The autumn months can offer the best chance of the year to catch that elusive double figure bass. At one time I believed the best chance of a double lay with a big bait. Now I am not so sure and feel confident that persistence with the lure will pay dividends eventually.

An Autumn Salmon

It is hard to believe that it is early September as I approach the river as the sun slowly climbs above the trees sending shafts of light across the river. The river is in perfect order running at a good height with pleasing  a tinge of colour that one could almost describe as that of fine ale.

I wade out into the cool water and begin my search, optimistic as an angler must be expectant that at any moment the line will zip tight. I absorb the familiar surroundings and listen to the soundtrack of the ever flowing river as it ambles to the sea. Wagtails bob about and a kingfisher flashes past. Fry are abundant in the margins giving hope for future seasons.

The seasons passing is obvious as leaves drift past and I notice a large number of ash leaves undoubtedly a sign of the ongoing of ash die back.

I have fished the river in perfect conditions several times this year and last with four or five years since my last salmon. After fishing the beat carefully drifting my flies across the favoured lies I work my way to the bottom of the beat covering the lies for a second time.

The salmons view as the fly drifts across the river

It is clear that the salmon are not  as abundant as they were when I started fishing this Middle Torridge beat ten years or so ago when leaping salmon and sea trout were a common sight. The picture of a twenty pound salmon further up river is of course an image that maintains hope in the knowledge that the fish had swum past the waters I am fishing.

The sun is now well up in the sky as I place my fly inches from the far bank. As it swings across the river there comes that electric pull down the line and in a magic moment that contact is made with throbbing life on the line. I hold the rod high and savour the moment as the rod kicks before the reel sings. I keep a tight line leaning into the fish as I step sideways allowing the salmon to push up river. The fish hangs deep in mid river; the rod bends, the line pointing into mid river, the salmon holding station in the strong current. For a while the salmon powers up river but as the pressure tells the fish seeks help from the current heading down river as I attempt to maintain a position opposite the fish . I glimpse a wide powerful tail and the flash of silver.

Its always a tense experience playing a salmon hoping that the hook will stay put and the knots hold strong. After around ten minutes I detach the net from my back and the battle continues with the fish on a short line. This is a tense time for many salmon are lost  during that time when the fish is so close to the net.

Then suddenly the fish rolls and is in the net as I give a call of triumph. “Yes!”

I carry the salmon to the margins and slip the barbless double hook from the top jaw. The Go Pro is clipped to my rod handle strategically placed at the water’s edge. I hold the salmon above the water for a brief self-take shot. The flanks of the 10lb plus hen fish are already showing subtle hues of the autumn season. Its image will remain etched upon my mind for the rest of my days fuelling the return to the river in search of silver.

The salmon is held in the cool water head upriver for a couple of minutes until I feel its strength return. It is a great feeling when the fish powers strongly away into the river to continue its amazing journey to hopefully spawn in the next couple of months.

A promising seasons end ?

An early start on the middle Torridge this morning as the river starts to drop and the colour starts to clear there should be a silver tourist somewhere ready to take a fly? The mournful cries of young buzzards and the croak of a raven hangs in the warm air as I walk to the river.

The rivers running high and full of hope as I drift my flies across time proven lies. I start with bright and bold hues of orange, yellow and gold. Then I go subtle with a silver stoats tail.

A kingfisher flashes past, a squirrel darts from branch to branch, wagtails flit to and fro. In the shallows pinhead fry dart as I wade the shallows. Vivid blue damsels alight upon the riverside grass. Bees gather upon the pink flowers of the invasive Himalayan balsam. Hazlenuts, blackberries  and seed-heads tell of the passing season. The river is topped up and flowing well with more rain in the forecast it could be a good end to the season on both Taw and Torridge. Big tides at present and rough seas all bodes well for the September so often the salmon fishers best.

Todays blank trip is all to common but ever the optimist. Its good be at the waters edge as always.

RIVERS IN DECLINE – Who Cares ?

See Below message from Alex Gibson of the River Taw Fisheries Association. I have repeatedly stressed the need to report incidents and concerns to the relevant bodies. It is sadly true that they may do nothing but at least our concerns are registered and if there is enough concern shown then just maybe something will be done.

The River and the Estuary; the EA and IFCA

While the cat’s away the mice will play.

As you all know our EA Enforcement Officer, Paul Carter, retired earlier this year. As things stand it is not clear when or indeed if he will be replaced. This presents us with a major problem not just for the river, but also for the estuary. Paul was cross-warranted to IFCA.

It is therefore even more important than ever for members to report pollution, poaching, illegal abstraction and other untoward events on the river as well as suspicious fishing activity including fixed long lines on the estuary where no netting is permitted except for sand eels. By putting reports into the EA we will demonstrate the importance of having an EA enforcement officer on our river. IFCA which is Brixham based with no North Devon presence or cross-warranting currently will send officers to the estuary to look into illegal fishing activities if there is appropriate intelligence information.

EA Hotline 0800 80 70 60

Devon & Severn IFCA (Brixham) 07740 175479

Alex Gibson

DIRTY WATERS – My Personal view – Wayne Thomas

I was wading down through the River Torridge a few weeks ago with a good height following heavy rain. I enjoyed my couple of hours swinging the fly across well known lies but I was down hearted by the lack of response in near perfect conditions. As I walked the river I struggled to get a grip on the slippery stones. It was as if the river bed had been coated in a layer of grease and eventually I lost my footing and fell heavily onto the stones. Fortunately my pride took the biggest blow and I fished on with a wet arm vowing to buy a new set of studs for my waders.

Last night I was wading the foreshore casting for bass waring the same waders and I reflect now that the rocks were not slippery. They were not coated in a film of slime like those in the river. Reading the article in the Guardian below I can relate to how our rivers are sadly being allowed to decline. It is a sad story and we must do all we can to stem this sad decline born of neglect and lack of focus. We must put this higher on the political agenda for surely the health of our river and environment is priceless?

I grew up in the village of Combe Martin and fished the River Umber that is the heart of the long valley that I once called home. Precious childhood memories abound of a stream full of life, crimson spotted brown trout with bellys of buttercup yellow hues. Elvers ascended the river in early summer and could be found under every stone close to the rivers mouth. I was chatting with a fellow villager  a few weeks ago and he related to the river of our youth. “Don’t see any trout in the river these days, not since the sewage works was built up river”. The sewage works was of course built to end the disgusting practice of discharging effluent directly into the sea. I can well remember the turds floating in the sea at Camels Eye close to the outfall. Whilst this was not an ideal situation and not acceptable I sometimes wonder if we have just hidden the problem shifting the issues. Investment is of course the answer but who pays?

In a corrupted world it is the environment that pays the price. But eventually we will create a vast cesspit and from what I have seen with the litter left strewn around there are those who would not mind this.

See below link to an article that recently appeared in the Guardian.

Wayne Thomas

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/12/government-britains-rivers-uk-waterways-farming-water-companies?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

In Cornish Waters

Its alarming how fast time and life fly’s past and the latest uncertain times have not slowed anything down. It was good to be heading down to Penzance with James and Rob for our annual pilgrimage in search of shark off the tip of Cornwall. As always a constant monitoring of the weather forecast preceded the trip and for once it seemed that luck was on our side with winds forecast to drop away to a light southerly on the day of the trip.

We planned to revisit a well known cove close to Penzance on the day before our boat trip. We had enjoyed an enjoyable session there twelve months ago when a calm sea and sunny skies had greeted us. Twelve months on it was a grey and breezy day with steady drizzle. Huge waves surged against the headland and plenty of weed floated in the water.

Lures were launched from the old granite jetty and as the tide flooded a few fish started to come to the shore. James went for a walk to the headland and took a refreshing swim whilst Rob and I persevered with the lures. Mackerel and small pollock put a pleasing bend in light rods and it was great to be away from life’s trials and tribulations.

We returned to Penzance to enjoy a delicious meal where we were staying at the Lugger Inn on the promenade. There was of course much talk of pandemics and its devastating effect on the economy and daily life. In this strange world of masked shoppers, sanitiser and social distancing it was good to relish the thought of heading out to sea.

Dolphins captured on film by James Thomas

After grabbing breakfast and hot coffee at Mc Donald’s we joined Jason Barrow and Bruce Elston on the quayside to board Bite Adventures, one of Cornwall’s  top Charter boats. By 8:30 we were feathering for mackerel in the calm waters of the bay. It was a misty morning that seemed surreal as dolphins materialized all around the boat gracefully swimming within just a few yards. Whilst we wanted to grab our camera’s Chippy was urging us to get to work catching bait for the day ahead. We listened intently as Chippy told the tale of the huge tuna hooked the previous day. The resurgence of tuna in Cornish waters is an exciting development. It is frustrating that it is illegal to target these splendid game fish that could support a thriving sport fishing venture. The tuna are classed as an endangered species yet it is not catch and release sport fishing that will lead to the loss of these fish in our waters. The tuna have returned to Cornish waters because the pilchard have returned. The commercial fishery is of course reaping a harvest of many hundreds of tons each day. How long before we have once again allowed the decimation of a fishery repeating once again the mistakes of the past? Do those in power not understand that the food chain needs to be healthy if the prime species at the top are to prosper? Sustainable fishing is of course the answer fishing methods need to be restricted to prevent overfishing.

After  1.5 hours we reached the sharking grounds close to thirty miles off the coast of West Cornwall and within minutes of stopping the engines we were to witness the memorable sight of tuna leaping several feet from the water. The deep and mysterious waters off the West Country Coast hold many secrets and this is perhaps one of the greatest attractions of shark fishing for anything can turn up in these waters. Recent sightings have included minke whales along with the tuna and dolphins.

A misty gloom created an eerie atmosphere as Chippy pointed out the towering shadow of a giant tanker at anchor. Perhaps at rest as economic turmoil sweeps across the world.

The rubby-dubby sacks in position releasing a pungent slick of fish fragments and oils we started our drift. Lots were drawn to see who would go first. Baited feathers were then sent to the depths to catch whiting hook-baits. Plump whiting were hauled to the surface along with numerous gurnards that were immediately sent back to swim from whence they had come.

Rob had drawn number one in the draw and it wasn’t long before the float plunged beneath the waves and the reel screamed its warning. And so the day unfolded as we drifted through the day. Periods of tense anticipation between runs then quite frequently two sharks at once in frantic periods of action. Chippy expertly advising us where to dodge as we successfully managed to avoid tangled lines. The sharks were brought to the side of the boat and quickly unhooked using the T-Bar to dislodge the circle hook. Three shark of around 90lb were brought onto the boat for a quick photo providing a lasting memo of a special day.

Gannets, storm petrels, an artic skua, fulmars and the more common seagulls kept us company throughout the day. Grey skies stretched to a far horizon; rods bent in frequent encounters with streamlined blues.

By the end of the days fishing we had caught 26 shark most between 60lb and 70lb with three of them estimated to be up around 90lb.

We bounced back over a slight swell to Penzance all cherishing memories of great day afloat and looking forward to the next out on Cornish waters.

Fly Culture – Podcast

I was pleased to have the opportunity to chat with Pete Tyjas for one of his recent Fly Culture Podcasts. See link below – If you download you can play it on the phone; a good way to entertain on a long car journey or in my wifes opinion ideal cure for insomnia.

https://www.buzzsprout.com/402997/4765247-wayne-thomas-on-writing-and-fishing-in-devon.mp3?blob_id=18923708&download=true

Bass on the lure

With a boat trip off Ilfracombe cancelled due to a brisk wind I decided upon a short session with the lure rod in the hope of a bass. I timed my arrival at the mark two hours after low water as the flooding tide pushed over the shallow boulder strewn shoreline. The shallow water was a little murky with more suspended weed than I would like but if the lure can be presented I felt sure bass would be there. I had a Megabass spindle worm clipped the end of my line from the previous trip in similar conditions. This lure is weedless and can be fished nice and slowly in the snaggiest of water without fear of losing tackle.

5lb bass

I started searching the water close in where weed was not so prevalent and after a couple of casts there was a  swirl and knock as a bass snatched at the lure. The next ten minutes were non eventful as I peached the mark carefully. A cast to an area of slightly clearer water brought a big swirl and an all too brief encounter.

My confidence was now high and as the tide pushed in my confidence grew. I followed the edge of the tide up and was rewarded as a bass hit the lure with thump. Line was ripped from the reel and the thin braid burnt my finger as I applied heavy pressure as the fish thrashed about in the weed. After a spirited tussle the bass was secured and at around 5lb despatched to take home for tea. I only take the occasional fish for the table returning any fish over 7lb and any under 4lb. Pan fried bass fillets are delicious!

5lb bass

I continued to search the shallow water and  enjoyed another spited tussle with another bass of identical size that was slipped back into the shallow water. The fish swam strongly away and  I hope to encounter the fish again in ten years time when it will perhaps be a double.