We had been looking forward to our trip on Reel Deal targeting Porbeagle shark for months and with the weather set fair I climbed out of bed eagerly at 5.00am. It was still dark when I set off to pick up fellow sharker Peter Robinson. I had offered to pick up Peter so that we could share the extortionate cost of parking on Ilfracombe Pier for the day. A £15.00 charge to park for a day during the summer season is likely to deter visitors and adds a significant cost to a day’s boat fishing.
We arrived at the harbourside and greeted Bruce who had booked the trip over twelve months ago following on from a successful excursion after the shark last Autumn when Bruce and James had brought shark boat-side between 100lb and 175lb.
In addition, Dan Hawkins skipper of Reel Deal had just recorded the first two blue fin tuna to be caught from the Bristol Channel. They had also caught a fine porbeagle estimated at over 200lb. In addition, earlier in the season several thresher shark had been caught and it was likely that these could still be present in the rich feeding grounds at the mouth of the Bristol Channel.
The weather forecast gave light winds of less than 10mph. I was slightly concerned as I felt a chill breeze as I stepped out of the car. There was also white water visible opposite the pier as a large swell pounded the rocks.
We greeted Dan quayside who seemed confident that all would be well with the wind forecast to drop later in the day. We were joined by three other anglers and we set off out of the harbour heading West towards the sharking grounds that are situated an hour or so steam beyond Hartland Point.
It was immediately obvious that the wind was brisker than forecast and it was more than a little lumpy as we bounced across the tide race off Morte Point. A good number of gannets could be seen diving into the turbulent waters a clear indication that mackerel and bass were present.
Dan eased off the power and gave us a bad prognosis. The wind was far stronger than forecast and images of Bude via surf cams showed a wall of white water. Sharking would be unpleasant and very likely unproductive. It was up to us but Dan thought we would be wasting our money and suggested we abort. He left us to ponder for a few moments and after a short debate we decided that the skipper generally knows best.
And so rather deflated in spirit we bounced back on the waves to Ilfracombe. Bruce and I started to think of plan B. Lure fishing off the shore could be worth a go with plenty of bass in the estuary?
On arrival back in Ilfracombe we clambered off the boat and within minutes Dan told us there were a couple of places on the Charter-boat Carrick Lee fishing locally. There were a few trigger fish being caught. Bruce had never caught a trigger fish so within minutes we were buying fresh king ragworm from the harbour Kiosk and handing over cash for a day on Carrick Lee. We said our goodbyes to Peter who was going to catch the bus home to Barnstaple. Pete had endured a very slow days boat-fishing a few days previous and wasn’t keen for a repeat.
We jumped on board ‘Carrick Lee’ to be greeted by the owner and skipper of the boat Paul Simon. There were six of us on board three who were visitors to the area and Paul Lorrimore who I know through Combe Martin SAC and his excellent Bay-side Burger Bar in Ilfracombe. Between us Bruce and I had enough tackle to combine efforts and put suitable rigs down to the sea bed. First stop was to the bay of my home village Combe Martin where we used small hooks and small baits to try and target a range of species with trigger fish high on our wish list.
The calm waters of Combe Martin Bay were certainly more tranquil than the wild waters off Hartland Point. It wasn’t long before Paul was into the first fish of the day a ballan wrasse of perhaps 2lb. There were plenty of gentle raps on the rod tips but fish were hard to find. Paul followed up with a lovely little red mullet a species I have yet to catch. I really need to do a bit more light species fishing this Autumn.
As the tide eased away sport was slow with just a couple of strap eels seizing baits. Skipper Paul pulled up the anchor and we set off for pastures new. After a short stop in the bay beneath Little Hangman we headed out to fish beneath the spectacular towering cliffs beneath Great Hangman. Paul put us on a bit of rough ground off Sherricombe Waterfall a mark I knew to have been productive over the years. Sherricombe Waterfall has a fascinating history. It is said that during the Second World War submariners from German U-Boats visited the craggy shore to collect freshwater during the cover of darkness. Many years ago, there was a path down to the sea near this point where locals would access the foreshore to gather laver. There were also rumours of smuggling activities. This path has long since crumbled along with the memories of those who walked the treacherous path. Mining was carried out deep within the cliff’s and it is still possible to see the remains of shafts on the sheer cliff face.
Whilst the scenery was spectacular the fishing wasn’t and after a few hours trying various rocky marks at anchor. We also tried drifting the well -known reefs at Copperas Rock. It was apparent that if the fish were present they were not feeding. The boat was buffeted by a strong offshore breeze, reinforcing the knowledge that our shark fishing trip cancellation had been a wise move.
Paul our skipper had tried very hard to find fish but is was undoubtedly a hard task. A return to Combe Martin Bay was welcome and again we hoped for trigger fish. After a couple of moves we eventually found success. Bruce’s rod arched over as he made contact with a hard fighting fish that was safely netted. A fine trigger fish of perhaps 3lb was held up and admired. A fish that always looks so unreal in British waters a visitor from warmer climes that is often linked to climate change. Their numbers fluctuate year on year and any link to climate change is tenuous.
Five minutes later I too added a trigger fish to the days tally.
We hoped for more trigger fish over the remaining couple of hours but they proved elusive. Paul had tried hard throughout the day. We had caught nine species between us, small tope, wrasse, pouting, pollock, strap eels, poor cod, red mullet, scad and trigger fish.
It has been a very mixed season for Ilfracombe Charter boats. Early summer had seen huge numbers of mackerel with calm weather. Occasional calm periods during July had allowed Reel Deal to venture to the shark grounds where several thresher shark were caught along with large porbeagle. During August poor weather and disappearance of the mackerel ruined the opportunity to take tourists on the short fishing trips that can boost the bank balance for charter boat owners in these increasingly difficult times of rising costs. The life of a charter boat skipper may seem like living the dream but it’s a far from easy way of making living.