KAYAK FISHING NORTH PENWITH: ST.IVES TO SENNEN COVE
The only extreme aspect of this particular jaunt is the location-probably the most exposed section of the entire SW coastline…..more or less unbroken cliff, no road access for eighteen miles, only a handful of beaches to get out, and ferocious tidal currents which aren’t always running in the direction you might expect.
How did I manage to choose such a lousy day? The previous week has been unbroken sunshine and the forecast for the next few days was similar, but as we stood ready to launch from Porthgwidden beach in the overquaint and appallingly narrow-streeted-made-infinitely-more-complicated-and-annoying-by-an-exasperating-one-way-system that diverted us around the entire town of St. Ives when we were only a stones throw away from the beach car park, it was blooming cold.
The normally sheltered harbour was messed up by a nagging northeasterly wind that seemed to emanate from an icy tundrascape inhabited by ghastly gurgling primordial creatures just over the horizon. In the direction of Wales,strangely.
Austen foolishly had a chat with a dog walker on the beach. On the positive side he had seen dolphins. On the negative side he said he hoped we had judged the tides right. That’s why I never talk to….er….anyone,really. They just mess things up, make things complicated, and make you worry.
While I was struggling with waves dumping on the shore Austen was already disappearing from sight in the tumultuous tide race around St. Ives island. We were soon on our way together but I didn’t take in much of the stunning scenery for a few miles cos I was hoping I hadn’t fluffed the tides. Blooming dog-walker.
Just before Gurnard’s head we spotted a sandy beach and surfed in for a cup of coffee. A pair of peregrines snickered overhead.
The other side of Gurnard’s head was much more sheltered so we could enjoy what I reckon is the most dramatic cliff scenery in the whole SW. Towering crumbling buttresses, caves,overhangs,pillars, hanging waterfalls, mini islands to dodge around. Three climbers hung off a vertical face , motionless, as climbers always are. Come to think of it I don’t think I have EVER seen a climber move as I have paddled past. The same applies to shore fishermen. Either that, or they and the entire scenery are moving past backwards at the same speed I would be paddling at, and it is infact me who is remaining stationary.
The coast here is hugely indented and the rounding the headlands was still a lumpy experience:
The low tide was exposing a few tiny stretches of sand in the most unfeasibly dramatic locations beneath mighty granite walls so we couldn’t resist a quick bit of exploration.
As we were passing Portheras cove on the approach to Pendeen lighthouse Austen hooked into not only the first fish of the trip, but also our 2010 season. I havn’t even mentioned fishing yet…we had been trolling sandeels for the first seven or eight miles and had both switched to Dexter wedges which are a bit more ‘meaty’ and will sink deeper in these ‘big’ waters.
By the way, if you are contemplating starting up your kayak fishing career in March and favour the trolling method like I do, don’t. It will lead to frustration and you will almost certainly give up and turn to gardening. Fish in the southwest are not attracted to lures at this time. Either that or they have all gone. One day in early March I trolled a very tempting rubber sandeel from Salcombe to Start Point and then all the way back the other way to Hope cove and then back to Salcombe again, a distance of over thirty miles. Not a nibble.
Mid April is just about when things kick off:
Anyway-the fishing season starts here and our North Penwith adventure had officially become a kayak fishing trip! Yippee.
As we demolished our cold sandwiches on a snip of a beach right in front of Pendeen lighthouse a hole appeared in the cloud and the lovely sun just about managed to maintain our temperature equilibrium without us having to paddle like fury to keep warm. Once again landing and launching was a bit hairy due to nasty little waves. I got the timing completely wrong and got a wave up to my chest. Earlier Austen copped one up to about his top lip.
I knew the next three miles to Cape Cornwall could be a tidal nightmare so was hoping that the promised inshore countercurrent was operating as the main tide was now on the push. If it wasn’t we were stuffed. Not entirely convinced of exactly was going on but it was OK and it was calm enough for us to get lost in a bit of tin – mining history.
As I have already hinted this part of the coast is about as remote and raw as it gets. No people (that move) ,barely a building visible, not a single boat,not even a lobster pot.OK, one lighthouse. So that makes the line up of chimneys and engine houses of the tin mines stacked up on top and half way down the cliffs even more sombre and haunting. Can’t really make any banale or flippent comments here-I’m just relieved Iended up as a sit-on-top kayaker and not a tin miner’s tea boy.
A couple of the engine houses were stuck to the side of the cliff in the most unlikely and precarious position. The buildings of various types are packed in tight- much more than anywhere else in cornwall that I have paddled.
I was jerked back into the reality of here and now by a tug on my line…..oh my giddy aunt I had caught a fish! And it just about topped a pound! I whispered in its slippery earhole that its mates had better watch out because nowhere is safe from the Bude Old Gits Kayak Fishermen, and returned him,or her, to the depths.
Cape Cornwall represented the last potential hairy bit of our paddle but it wasn’t too bad. Icould see a bit of movement in the tiny coastguard hut far above and it seemed a bit anxious. Yes, people moving. Don’t suppose they were expecting too many kayakers today, given the dodgy wind and cold, but anyway Austen and I settled down to do a spot of fishing in the tide race .
And low and behold I hooked my first mackerel of the season but it came off as I was shrieking to Austen about it, but my expletives were lost on the wind.
So there just remained the easy run-in across Whitesand Bay to Sennen Cove. I lost my Dexter Wedge and couldn’t be bothered to put on another lure, while Austen caught a succession of small pollack. Whitsand Bay is such an exciting place- loads of bird activity with gannets diving in from unnecessarily high above the water, but I’m sure their chums were impressed. Must come back in the summer for more basking shark adventures.
And that was it , just had to shuttle back to St Ives and weave back through the streets (which had got slightly narrower than this morning, and someone seemed to have changed the one -way system around) to pick up my car. We topped off a top day with a Big Mac Meal. Coldn’t face a McFlurry.
Just a word about our choice of kayak for today. Of course we were both in, or on, sit-on-top fishing kayaks. These tend to be quite a lot more beamy than their sit-in counterparts, and so very stable but making a sacrifice to speed. The longer and narrower a kayak, the faster it goes. I have spend at lot of time researching the best compromise in terms of speed, comfort, fishability and load carrying capacity.
My Tarpon fits the bill nicely-excellent in all departments apart from the fact that it is hugely heavy and nearly pops vertebrae and shoulders when I heave it onto the car top.
I suspect that four out of five conventional sea kayak paddlers would have declined today’s paddle due to rough conditions. But in our ultra stable boats it really wasn’t a problem. And as far as wildlife viewing is concerned sit on tops win hands down. As you sit with your legs dangling over the side, what can equal the thrill of a basking shark brushing beneath your verrucas.