CHASING PREDATORS

As I write this on a Sunday morning rain is lashing down beating against the window driven by a strong South West wind, the fire is crackling in the grate. It’s a good time to reflect on two days chasing predators with good friends.

I was awoken by the alarm at 3:45am on Thursday morning eager to visit the legendary Chew Valley Lake near Bristol. The 100 mile journey proved uneventful and I pulled into the carp park at 7:30 to greet my long term fishing buddy Bruce Elston. Shortly after 8:00am we were anchored up in twelve feet of water as the morning sun illuminated the calm lake.

We both cast out dead-baits beneath crimson topped floats the baits resting on the bottom. Lures were cast to search around the boat and a pike followed Bruce’s latest lucky lure to the side of the boat before disappearing with a flick of its tail.

My float stood abruptly to attention before sliding beneath the water! I wound down immediately to feel a pleasing resistance. Chew Valleys long history as a water containing massive pike always gives a deep sense of anticipation. Is this a jack or the fish of dreams, that thirty pounder or perhaps even a forty?

The pike is a jack of five or six pounds. Ten minutes later the float slides away again and this time it’s a far better fish. As it approaches the boat it launches itself attempting to shake the hooks free. The image of the pike erupting from the water in a flurry of spray is one of those images that will be etched upon the minds eye for many years.

The pike pulls the scales down to 17lb 3oz and is no monster in Chew terms but a good result for an occasional piker like myself.

This proves to be the highlight of a great day shared with a good friend. We savour a full day upon this vast reed fringed lake. Planes fly overhead from nearby Bristol Airport a sign that the world is moving once again after two very strange years. A pair of swans fly past majestically, terns and gulls constantly twist and turn in the winter sky. The cold winter air bites at the extremities. Sausages sizzle on the stove and the kettle whistles as we enjoy the occasional warming joy of hot tea and coffee. Blood trickles from lacerated fingers after handling numerous pike as the day progresses. All of today’s fish fall to dead-baits, joey mackerel, smelt and blueys.

We end the day with seventeen pike between us and two hard fighting rainbow trout that also seized dead-baits.

We arrived back at the jetty as the light began to fade. “Any good ?” I ask a fellow angler. “A few Jacks and a low double; not what we came for”. he replied in a slightly dejected tone. Bruce and I had also come in hope of that fish of a lifetime but had enjoyed the day immensely just catching a good few pike. Savouring the atmosphere and anticipation. I have fished Chew for close to twenty years and will keep returning. One day I might just tempt that thirty pound pike but if not I will enjoy the journey and each dip of that crimson topped float.

A mid twenty conger
(Above) Les Smith with one of many spurs
Rob Scoines holds a bull huss with attitude

Steve Dawe with vividly marked huss

(Above) Brian Hopcroft with a good spur
Good eel for Chris Hodgson
Bob Hopcroft with a fine spur.
Chris Hodgson with a good spur

The next day I set sail from Ilfracombe with seven other anglers in search of spurdog. We are blessed with a calm day sandwiched between days of strong winds. The spurdog packs seven miles offshore provide an exciting day with over two hundred a conservative estimate. A few good conger to mid-twenties add to the excitement along with handsome bull huss their sides decorated with a multitude of leopard like patterns. Hopefully a full account of this trip will appear in a future edition of Hookpoint Magazine.

DISCOVERING A LONG LOST MARK

Watching the news this morning took me back to a wonderful time in the early eighties when for seven days we would wander the North Devon coast in search of specimen fish. The Ilfracombe & District Angling Association organised a popular angling festival each summer that was well attended by both locals and visiting anglers. The ignition for these memories was sparked by the mention on BBC news of one of North Devon’s famous rock marks.

Back then as we competed against each other to catch the biggest fish and successful marks could be a closely guarded secret with some going to extreme lengths to discover these marks. Spotting a known anglers car parked adjacent to a coastal access point was a common giveaway or a quick glance through the window would give a clue if it was an angler’s car with associated fishing bits a giveaway. Back then all cars also displayed a tax disc giving a clue as to the angler’s residential area.

This was of course long before the days of social media where anglers post their catches and often try to disguise marks using clever photo shop techniques. Not sure if there are more or less anglers these days but there are probably less fish. Coastal access has however become an increasingly problematic area. The increase in coastal walkers and those using the coast for recreation has undoubtedly increased considerably and this has in some cases impacted upon free access.

The introduction of fishing permits to gain access has been an unwelcome trend generated in part by a lack of respect for private land and the ongoing issue of litter.

Coastal erosion is also playing its part with once popular marks like Sillery Sands now inaccessible due to landslips.

In truth there are still many miles of accessible coastline that allow free access even if a long walk is required. A day walking the coast can reveal potential marks as can a survey of Google Maps often revealing areas worth exploring.

Those chasing specimen fish often follow the crowd trying to catch the fish that were caught yesterday. Whilst being at the right place at the right time is paramount there are plenty of fish in the sea! Many marks have become popular due to the reporting of good fish a major factor for the more people who fish a mark the more will be caught. Perpetuating the myth that it is the must visit mark.

I fully understand the reason for being careful with informing others of where fish are caught. We all like to have our favourite marks to ourselves but in many cases with a bit of thought it’s not hard to get away from the crowds.

Like most things in life many will always follow the crowd. Back in those days fishing the North Devon Coast during the Ilfracombe Festival I fondly remember the smirks as the competition organisers voice echoed across the harbour. Today’s winner is “ Bullshit Bov , with a fine specimen wrasse of 6lb from “ Fraggle Rock”.

 

Fraggle rock a popular childrens TV programme has been relaunched. It ran from 1983 until 1987.

SUPER SEPTEMBER SHARKING

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Daniel Hawkins focused on taking anglers in search of shark during the month of September and enjoyed a great deal of success bringing a good number of porbeagle and thresher shark to the side of the boat. The biggest porbeagle was estimated at an impressive 550lb.

Reel Deal moves up to Watchet for the winter season while the sister boat Predator 2 skippered by Archie Porter remains at Ilfracombe and will be running trips throughout the winter targeting spurdog, bull huss and conger.

Bass Sport on Bluefin

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Troy Laing and Toby Bassett were amongst anglers to enjoy some great bass sport off Ilfracombe on-board Bluefin. Autumn often provides some of the years best bass fishing over local reefs and this year everything seems to be running a little late so perhaps sport will continue right through the autumn months if weather permits access.

Huss, tope, conger and bass off Ilfracombe

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SOUTH MOLTON ANGLING CLUB
South Molton angling club enjoyed a day off Ilfracombe with John Barbeary on BluefIn. Report from Ed Rands below :-
It was a bit overcast and we had a heavy shower in the afternoon but it didn’t dampen our spirits. 
Often this time of year can be good for bass on the horseshoe so after a couple of drifts on inshore reefs to let the tide ease we went out for the main event which needless to say produced no bass and only a few pollack and scad.
We then moved to another place and anchored up which produced a 20lb tope and a 25lb conger,a 14lb huss and the inevitable dogfish. 
We tried the horseshoe again on our way in, still no bass!
We then finished the day off inshore off Lee bay, more huss, dogs and conger. 
In all we had 25 huss, 10 conger,20 scad,3 pollack a starry smoothound and bjorn caught a mussel and a starfish, but the biggest cheer was for richards 4″ joey mackerel which are getting like hens teeth….how things change 

Below Troy Laing with a nice bass caught on Bluefin. A few days after the South Molton Club trip

Porbeagle shark brace

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Daniel Welch and Ross Stanway enjoyed an awesome day on the boat with good numbers of bass and a couple stunning porbeagle shark. Dan and Ross both bringing fish of over 200lb to the side of the boat. Dans son Solly was at hands share the experience. The three anglers also enjoyed sport with bass.

Many thanks to Dan for allowing me to use the splendid images.

Persistence and lessons learnt

Sometimes as I put these pages together and see what everyone is catching I wonder where I am going wrong. In the past few months, I have persisted lure fishing for bass despite blank after blank. I have fished ground that I have enjoyed success at in the past confident that it would eventually come right.

Calm clear conditions
A weed strewn shoreline

Calm conditions, interspersed with rougher water and masses of weed. I fished early, late and at different states of tide. Its seldom that everything is right after all. One morning I arrived at the water’s edge on the early morning flood. Third cast and wallop a heavy fish hit the lure hard. After a few strong runs the bass that I estimated to be between 8lb and 10lb was wallowing on a short line. All was going well until in a sickening moment the hook hold gave way and the lure flew back towards me. The big bass was gone with a flick of its tail to linger hauntingly in the minds eye. Strange how the loss of a big fish often remains etched in the mind far longer than a successful capture.

The loss of the bass spurred me onto more sessions and yet more blanks. On one occasion I arrived to find a huge swell surging into the shoreline. Despite this I persevered  and found a slightly calmer area with no weed. I caught sight of a few mullet their flanks catching the evening sunlight. After two hours still no bass; a move to a second mark brought the same result.

A couple of days later I return to the same mark. A brisk North West wind is blowing into the shoreline but there is little swell just a fizzy wind driven sea. I wade out and flick out a dark coloured Mega bass spindle worm lure. Third cast and bang the rod tip slams round the line zipping out to sea the rod pulsing in the hands the reels singing in protest. After a short exhilarating encounter a bass of 67cm ( just over 6lb) is secured. In the next two and   a half hours I beach another five bass estimated at between 3lb 8oz and 6lb. Three of the fish are close to 6lb. I pack away after darkness has descended my soft lures depleted by the aggressive bass.

Confidence is restored in the marks, the lures and my own judgement. It would be easy to just plan trips based on tide, weather and time of day. Problem is sometimes we can only go when it suits us. Choosing those perfect conditions would be ideal but getting tide times, weather, water clarity and time of day to fall into place is difficult. Then of course there is lure choice or bait choice plus location.

The following day I headed to Ilfracombe Pier for a short LRF session with my good friend Keith Armishaw of River Reads and Angling Heritage. After a later than planned start we fished the rising tide to tempt a few miniature pouting and pollock. Keith added a shanny to list and totally out-fished me using fragments of mackerel. I stuck to ISOME imitation ragworm and failed to connect with several good tugs.

Grey mullet were next on the agenda and we headed off to our chosen mark electing to fish the sheltered area out of the brisk North West breeze. A friend arrived on the opposite shoreline electing to fish into the teeth of the wind. Lesson learnt four mullet to 5lb 1oz on the windward shoreline – Nil, from the sheltered shoreline!

Remember the fish will be where the food is and not where you are most comfortable.