BASKING SHARK BONANZA

I knew I was going to have some good wildlife encounters today when I passed two foxes and a Roe deer in a field, two dead badgers side by side and a rabbit which was alive and well and skipping and hopping on the road in front of me  but sadly flat as a pizza in my rear view mirror, on my way to Sennen cove.

The sea was very lumpy at first and I caught two decent pollack on a Dexter wedge using cast and drift technique. But forget the fishing- I found myself in the centre of a feeding frenzy of two basking sharks. Well,hardly frenzied but the grey mullet which sploshed around at the surface munching up the disturbed plankton certainly were.

I could have scratched (or even picked)  the sharks nose as it cruised past…..

What a hooter
What a hooter

They just kept on turning and coming back right underneath my boat, submerging at the last second just enough to avoid clanging into me.

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It’s difficult to show the size of these whopping fish compared to my kayak but here’s one heading straight for me with mouth agape…..

Torpedo?
Torpedo?

I did a lot of fumbling with my camera and got a lot of underwater pics of not alot. However I was a bit smug with this one…..note part of my wig in top left corner to provide some scale……..

Mouths surely don't come bigger
Mouths surely don't come bigger

This marine creature experience contrasts strongly with memories of Sperm Whale watching in New Zealand. Wafts of expensive perfume from well-heeled observers peering out of the air-conditioned jet boat, and a thunderous simultaneous clatter of camera shutters as the tail flukes came up (plus a bit of American-style whooping). Gimme a kayak anyday, plus a few passing shearwaters and kittiwakes for company.

Hope it's not a Great white
Hope it's not a Great white

 At one stage  it was looking as though the shark had made the same ghastly mistake as some of my teachers* at school who accused me of resembling a piece of plankton. Fortunately it recognised me as of unpalatably high intellect at the critical moment and swerved away.

 

Please close your mouth and go graze some plankton elsewhere
Please close your mouth and go graze some plankton elsewhere

(*often maths, occasionally general science and once religious studies formerly known as scripture)

BOSCASTLE PUFFIN

Early morning paddle to Boscastle this morning for spot of fishing and wildlife viewing.

Caught about 8 pollack (yawn) and a couple of mackerel (slight yawn) on a trolled toby, but major highlight of the trip was sight of one of the elusive pufins that nest on Short Island. I’ve never seen more than three there so complex mathematics would suggest two pairs maximum.

low profile PUFFIN
low profile PUFFIN

PAINTED LADY BUTTERFLIES

OK this hasn’t got much to do with fishing, but while ruminating on my kayak recently, waiting to catch a lunker, I couldn’t help but notice the huge number of Painted Ladies.

Of course there have been even huger numbers over land but I have been surprised to see several of these fast-flying orange butterflies zip past my kayak every minute.

They have apparently hatched out in vast hoards in The Atlas mountains and their northward migration coincided with that exceptionally warm weather (and favourable winds) last week enabling them to get across the English channel.

To demonstrate their abundance take a look at this pic I took when I ACCIDENTALLY pressed the shutter during my Lands End kayak trip last Friday.  A Painted Lady just happened to be hurtling past.

Painted Lady off Lands End
Painted Lady off Lands End

No, it’s not a kite.

KAYAKING THE RIVER TAY

For the last week in May 2009 a representative sample of the Bude Old Gits Kayak fishing club headed north on their spring migration. Most were sea kayaking near Skye, but Richard and I opted for an 80 mile paddle down the River Tay.We camped the night  near Crianlarich after our rendez-vous with my brothers James and Tim and Tim’s chums Callum and George.

The next morning we set off on the insubstantial River Fillan near Crianlarich and within five minutes of departure narrowly avoided being stampeded by a psychotic (or maybe just lost) Aberdeen Angus heifer.

Thunderous beastie
Thunderous beastie
James,Tim and Ben More
James,Tim and Ben More

We passed through the shallow Loch Lubhair at the foot of the great bulk of Ben More and into the River Dochart, where we encountered our first major rapid. Nasty and rocky so we portaged.

The white water King
The white water King

A canal like section then followed and lulled us into a false sense of security  and Callum and George tried to harness a bit of wind power…….

Callum grapples with green energy
Callum grapples with green energy

before the river plunged into more wild water. We shot the first section but had a long road portage through Killin to avoid the falls of Dochart.

James and Tim about to get wet
James and Tim about to get wet

Coachfuls of Saga holidaymakers looked on quizzically as we dragged our kayaks through the streets of Killin and Tim hurled himself headlong into the main street when he twisted his ankle on the kerb.

James and Tim (before his ankle twist)
James and Tim (before his ankle twist)

Paddling into Loch Tay was simply perfect. Not a breath of wind and crystal clear. We clocked up a few miles then camped right on the shore-idyllic.

Loch Tay
Loch Tay

The cloud was lowering as we set off the next day with two extra paddlers-Toby and Alexander, but the wind remained light. OK so it rained a bit. I caught 4 or 5 brown trout on my mini jointed Rapala and Rich caught the same number on a Mepps spinner, including fish of the day.P5230512We exited the Loch after about five hours of paddling and were thrown straight into a beefy rapid which saw Callum and I have a lengthy swim. When the River Lyon joined up things bacame a bit more sedate and we stopped to investigate a gull colony on an island. In expert Stuka fashion one sprayed me with foul smelling stuff, all over. 

Then we were hurled into the renowned Grandtully rapids and somehow I holed my unholeable plastic kayak on a rock and it virtually sank. Instant major depression when I pulled out my wet sleeping bag-what could be worse?

However some positive thinking from Tim, a rubber patch and a nearly empty roll of tape supplied by a semi hippy type called Wes , effected a reasonable repair. We camped at Grandtully and Day 3 brought much more sedate waters.

 

We even had time to admire the best bluebell display I think I have ever seen:

Bluebells near Dunkeld
Bluebells near Dunkeld

Campsie Linn heralded the start of the final sequence of white water.

Alexander and Toby looking good
Alexander and Toby looking good

We called it a day at at Stanley weir, after Richard had been consumed by one of the fearsome whirlpools at Campsie. Wes had warned us that a kayaker had once been sucked down by this  whirlpool and spat out after a couple of minutes looking like a ‘white puddin’ ‘.

Final camp at Stanley
Final camp at Stanley

The final day dawned with moans and groans from various tents like a scene from Apocalypse Now. Callum’s bruised thigh, George’s cracked ribs, Tim’s  twisted ankle, my left buttock I had thumped on a rock while shooting the weir the previous evening (without kayak). 

We mustered up the energy to negotiate the intimidating Hell hole corner before smart detective work by Callum diverted us down a tiny mill leat which took us a couple of miles through thick woodland smelling of garlic.

Commando Rich
Commando Rich

The designers didn’t have kayaks in mind (they probably hadn’t been invented) and a woman who had lived in the house at the end for ten years said she had never seen anyone paddling in the leat!

Tim gets limbo practice
Tim gets limbo practice

Having avoided being sucked into the generator at the end of the leat we rejoined the main river and had an easy final stretch before hauling out for the final time beside the first bridge in Perth.

The Motley Crew
The Motley Crew

Just a 600 mile drive home.

TOP TIP: repackage supplies to make them more robust and camping friendly. For example I have repackaged and rebranded a well known single malt , at the same time cutting out all that 80 years old rubbish so that ‘it does what it says on the tin’. (well, sample bottle, to be precise)P5280577

Pollacking at Cambeak

3 June 2008

Super flat and warm at Cambeak. Me,Pokey,Derrick and Andrew. I didn’t catch anything for an hour but went to investigate a bust up amongst a flock of seagulls and swung my wildlife rescue skills into action. An immature Herring gull had got in a fix with a fishing lure:

Double ouch
Double ouch

I released the hook from its mouth and foot and after a while regaining its composure it flew off, and will probably stick to terrorising chip eating tourists from now on. Distant whoops of delight from Pokey accompanied his first pollack.

 Derrick and I were half asleep when our rods were thumped by a pollacking feeding frenzy way below on our mackerel feathers. I pulled up three fish that must have totalled nearly 10 lbs and Derrick hauled up a 5 lb beauty.

Derrick gets fish of the day (sorry, Pokey)
Derrick gets fish of the day (sorry, Pokey)

I also dragged up a small ballan wrasse whose eyeballs didn’t cope with the change in pressure awfully well.

Pokey doesn't get fish of the day ( sorry, Pokey)
Pokey doesn't get fish of the day ( sorry, Pokey)

Andrew sneakily hauled up a sizeable fish without making a fuss, so we all went home happy (and smelling like Grimsby market).

Happy hunter gatherers
Happy hunter gatherers

Kayak Fishing Land’s End

5 June 2009 PORTHGWARRA TO SENNEN AND BACK

The rare combination of a day off,little wind and little swell lured me down to Land’s End for the next installment of my round-the-southwest-paddle. I was just a bit excited as I was about to tackle the most stunning paddle in the U.K. (if not the world) and I was about to have some legendary fishing and wildlife encounters…..

Gwennap head
Gwennap head

I started to let out a rubber sandeel to troll and immediately caught a pollack about 1lb. Pollack really are quite dim. They give absolutely no thought to what they might be consuming and wolf it down so that often the hook doesn’t engage till it is deep into their stomach. Then when you are trying your best to delicately remove the hook they regurgitate a load of half-digested sandeels all over your trousers that smell worse than an unidentifiable portion of food that has been at the back of your fridge for a couple of months.

I let the fish go but it lay at the surface regaining its composure for a second too long. A Great Black-backed Gull appeared out of nowhere and downed it whole. There’s something sinister about these very large and aggressive gulls. They sit on every headland and watch you go past. You feel that if you show the slightest hint of weakness or vulnerability they will have your eyeballs out. I tried to sit up straighter and paddle harder although I was indeed feeling a bit small in BIG scenery and lumpy conditions.(This is rated a Grade C paddle-the most challenging).

Off Carn Boel  I hooked a whopping fish in the middle of a surging tide race.By the time I had struggled it aboard I had been swept back and had to battle through the race all over again.

Another Pollack (yawn),but it's a whopper
Another Pollack (yawn),but it's a whopper

This could have been my biggest fish ever-I would guess about 7lbs. I put it back to fight another day.

On the final run in to Land’s end I caught loads more pollack around every dramatic headland with it’s surging race. The last was the ridiculously named Dr. Syntax’s head. Hang on a minute, wasn’t he the guy who wrote the children’s book  called Rotting Spam and Ham, or something.

I was suddenly into a different world of flat calm seas and no swell and caught my first bass of the season only a few yards away from Land’s End proper.

First bass of the season
First bass of the season

On the last headland before Sennen Cove I gawped at the rockclimbers and tombstoners and they gawped at me. I moped about offshore soaking up the sun in Whitsand Bay, landed another (smaller) bass then headed for home.

Land's End.....at last
Land's End.....at last

I headed for the great swirling current on the seaward side of the jagged island with the very satisfactory name of  ‘Armed Knight’ and I waited in anticipation for something to grab my sandeel in the most dramatic location and one of the biggest tide races around. Right on cue my reel buzzed out and my rod bent over in a very impressive manner and for the first time I almost felt like a real fisherman. This was a serious fish in a serious place and needless to say it got off. 

So I caught a snivvling mackerel instead.

Land's End mack
Land's End mack

Back around Carn Boel I hooked so many pollack I had to pull my lure in , as every time I got swept back around the point and had to start again.

Yes, you guessed right, somehow the current had changed direction and I was battling into the teeth of the waves, just as I was only an hour beforehand , only the other way. Bad planning, you might think. Well, no actually-this just exemplifies everything I find irritating about smuggy pleased-with-themselves nautical know-alls and the books they produce.

I have spent dozens of hours working out the best time to do this trip using chart datum from a nautical almanac. (even that stupid jargon grates on me). For a start you have to use tides at DOVER for reference.What a load of bunk. Dover is three hundred miles away. Why not use Penzance which is just around the corner, then at least you’d have a feel for whether the tide is high, low or somewhere in between.

And then they slink about in those daft blue deck shoes with white rims.No-one wears deck shoes in Holsworthy. We wear dealer boots. You can’t leg it after an escaped bullock wearing a pair of deck shoes.

Anyway,  I was just about to call it a day after a sensational four hour twelve mile trip when things got even better. Over half a mile offshore did I catch a glimpse of a dolphin’s fin?. I headed out to investigate and was soon beside myself with excitement……

Basking shark
Basking shark

I sneaked up on the classic triangular dorsal fin of a big basker-its tail fin was a good eight foot behind. It dived and while I was looking around for it heard a splash behind me and the vast beast passed right underneath my flimsy and insubstantial craft touching with its back. Yikes. I was the best part of a mile offshore.

Thrills over, or so I thought , I headed for shore but encountered another shark on the way in and tried out my hand at underwater photography. The trouble was the subject is so huge I couldn’t fit it in!P6050645

This shark, like the first seemed to find me , or hopefully just my kayak, attractive, and came round to investigate………..

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Time to pack it in as it was starting to get dark and the tide was fast drifting me towards Nantucket. But I met up with one more big fish on the way in and had the chance to get a pic of the legendary cavernous gape….

What a cakehole!
What a cakehole!

Top trip!

FOOTNOTE: If I make the grade for reincarnation I will NOT be volunteering to return as a sandeel……look at how shredded my rubber eel got after only an hour!

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