KAYAK FISHING ISLES OF SCILLY – Bude Old Gits Scilly Summer Vacation

The scene was nicely set as our rag tag bunch of ageing motley macho males excitedly boarded the Scillonian III at Penzance. Only one thing was different to usual…the weather forecast for the next few days was ABSOLUTELY PERFECT.

While others opted for the full breakfast in the galley I refrained until I could look at the Chelsea buns in the lttle glass display cabinet no longer, and selected the one which had a double cherry on top (the other ,inexplicably,didn’t have any cherry at all). This was a seriously bad act of gluttony which I was to soon regret,and it tasted of cardboard anyway.

We watched nervously as our kayaks were unloaded like a consignment of drainage pipes upon arrival at St Mary’s.

Why does mine have to be at the bottom?

And so we shoe-horned all our clobber required for four nights camping into our kayaks and headed off towards the dream campsite at St. Martins, but progress was slow as we hooked a load of Pollack around the top end of St. Marys, Austen with his trusty Husky Jerk catching fish of the day at about four pounds and then a load more so he got left way behind.

Hugh Town Hellraisers-Keith, Austen,Jeremy,Derrick,Joel,Steve

We diverted for a snoop round the Eastern Isles partly to get shelter from the nagging north wind. And it was when we got out for a leg stretch on the idyllic island of Little Arthur my act of gluttony with the double cherry savoury wreaked its revenge in the most unpleasant manner. If you are planning a trip to this uninhabited isle I would recommend leaving it for a few months.

We encamped at St Martins and I managed to lurch to the Seven Stones Inn where I improved significantlywith my own patented form of nutritional electrolyte repalacement diet (N.E.R.D)……Guiness and a packet of mini cheddars.

Austen was pollack barbeque king and there was enough left over to feed many of our campsite neighbours including three Dutch sea kayakers, and the local cat.

Austen-barbeque king

Day 2 dawned stunning and sunny. In return for the great slab of pollack the cat had dumped a dead shrew beside our teabags. But not just any shrew…a Scilly shrew,endemic to these Isles. Amazing because the last time I had visited the Scillies, in 1976, was on a travel scholarship to study the Scilly shrew and saw neither hide nor hair of one for the whole time.

We loaded our kit for our days paddle on St Martin’s white beach under deep blue skies. Perfection.

St Martin's beach

We explored the sheltered and gin clear waters around Tean and St.Helens before venturing into the more exposed and lumpy seas for a circumnavigation of Round Island.

Derrick leads by a short toggle

The north side of Round island received full swell and north wind so was quite entertaining. As usual in such an extreme place a peregrine put in an appearance-it was nesting on the very top of the lighthouse.

you'll be pleased with this one Derrick. Epic adventurer stuff.

We had a bit of a leg stretch on St. Helens where those with functional limbs took a hike to the top of the hill and watched a gull’s egg hatch in front of their eyes.

Nice cooling hot cup of coffee for Austen, Derrick,Jeremy

Then it was back to the boats and a tour round Menavaur with quite a few puffins, several decent pollack on my big Rapala lure , and then into the cosy sheltered comfort of another world in Grimsby sound between Tresco and Bryher.

More pollack for supper

The pub in Tresco was absolutely buzzing with a raucous live band that I would love to say were completely out of character with the peaceful sleepy setting but were actually quite good. They even got the pauses right in that Steve Harley song. It was a short hop across the sound to Bryher’s pub( with the naff name of Fraggle Rock) where Austen sported a new style of hat:

Birdbrain?

A quick circuit of Samson and yet more white beaches and Turquoise water and back to St Martins.

The longest day of the year dawned sunny and stayed that way. And there was no wind. Campers were sleepy:

Early morning snoring

It was going to be a true five star rated day of paddling and as we paddled past Tresco en route for refuelling at St Mary’s it was a struggle to believe we were in England and not a Maldive type place.

This CANNOT be blighty

I had gone on ahead to go for a prowl around the anchorage at St.Mary’s to meet up with Cushing who had boldly sailed solo from Newlyn the previous day to rendez vous with our motley bunch. I found him pootling in his tender.

It would have been REALLY impressive if he had come from Newlyn in that.

We crossed the fairly stiff tidal current of St.Mary’s sound and skirted the rocky north shore of St.Agnes around to the beach in front of Troytown campsite. This is easily the most dramatic location for a camp ground I have ever seen in UK and surely the best. A single low wall between it and the sea, and then a waterscape of jagged granite teeth sticking above the waves which 99 days out of a hundred would appear ferociously hostile and pounded by wind and swell (and indeed claiming many an unfortunate ship), but today, the day WE happened to turn up, was as smooth as a BP slick. And in the far distance Bishop Rock lighthouse marked the western edge of the rocks, beckoning us to visit. So off we went.

We dumped our stuff at the campsite first.

St Agnes campsite beach

The paddle to the Bishop rock lighthouse encapsulates everything I love about sea kayaking.It is a wilderness experience in a vista unchanged for millenia (apart from the lighthouse and transient wrecks on rocks). No near sign of  human existence. Just you and the sea and the things in and on it. We took a tour round the western rocks which even on this benignest of days were creepily unwelcoming. A fairly stiff tide race sucked through them and on the other side was a slurping swell.

Steve en route to meet the Bishop

We loitered briefly and then headed back behind the shelter of the western rocks for our first proper bottom fishing session so far.

Puffins nesting on Rosevear kept nipping past and seals came close see what was going on. My rod fairly curved when I hooked 10lbs of Pollack-but unfortunately not all one fish!….

Looks like pollack for tea.....again

Austen and I spent a memorable hour or two in this extreme location and although my hit rate fizzled out, his husky jerk kept producing the goods.

Loads more pollack and a tropical-style cuckoo wrasse:

and I managed to drag up a completely orange ballan wrasse on feathers.

Following another nutritionally sound and healthy but maybe a bit too pollacky meal we retired to the Turks Head for a very entertaining evening and autopsy on the best tales of the day. Joel was so excited about getting to the Bishop rock he paddled round it twice!

Another perfect morning at Troytown.

Tremendous Troytown

A spin off from the testosterone laden talk in the Turks head was the idea we should paddle back to the mainland tomorrow. This has long been my number one ambition but sea conditions are rarely suitable. Tomorrow however looked about as good as it could get, and there was always the niggle that the other two groups of sea kayakers we had met had both made the crossing (the Dutch in BOTH directions). So myself and Austen and Keith were starting to sort of be committed, maybe.

We began our day with a circumnavigation of Annet and yet more pollack. Jeremy caught a cracker and Austen kept the interest up with a nice spotty wrasse on his trusty husky jerk .

Alas our last lunch in the Turks Head heralded the start of the disintegration of our group as we prepared to depart tomorrow.

Tipple at Turks Head

Jeremy had to meet Jane off the plane at St marys and paddled off through the turquoise water.

We said farewell to Cush on his yacht and then Derrick ,Steve and Joel who were going to spend another night camping before taking the Scillonian home…..and maybe the Turks Head again,eh?

Parting Portraits:

Pagey, Derrick and Duracell Joel
Steve Davenport

So Austen and Keith and I paddled north again towards St Martins and its green blue water and stocked up on provisions in preparation for the big crossing back to Cornwall tomorrow. We past possibly the most Caribbean-like beach yet on the top end of St. Mary’s.

What a stunning four day adventure. The weather could never be that good again. Not a cloud from Day 2 onwards. Where do we go from here for next year?

The only  glitch from a kayak fishing point of view is that there are, apparently, no bass in the Scillies. Why didn’t somebody say and I wouldn’t have taken a load of sandeels.Clearly in the world of positive spin in which we currently lurk, stating such a negative in a tourism brochure or advert would be contrary to procedure. But we’ll let you off this time because EVERYTHING else was top.

p.s. separate post on the scilly crossing back to Cornwall coming soon.

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…..AND MORE BASKING SHARKS

Such is the 100% thrill factor of being in the sea with basking sharks, I just had to go back for another look, dragging along my eldest son Henry (Hezzer) even though he would have preferred to be watching the footy even though he should have been doing revision.

We paddled my trusty and ancient Malibu 2 and the pressure was on to find a shark . Just past the now legendary Pedn-men-an-mere point there were thousands of grey mullet packed so tightly together you couldn’t see the water between them and forming great grey/brown patches on the sea.

Mucho mullet usually means basking shark and there in front of us was the dorsal and tailfin of a whopper, so far apart Hezzer presumed it had to be two sharks. A good 20 ft long.

OK , I know I panned the snorkeller watching the shark the other day but I just had to give it a go and leapt into the water (nearly tipping Hezzer in) armed with snorkel, mask and camera.

I know you are not supposed to approach basking sharks but you really don’t have to because they tend to zigzag over the same patch and have a bit of a nosy tendency to come and have a look at kayaks and oafs bobbing around in the water. So you just have to sit and wait. The water was thick with plankton so visibility wasn’t great but the shark obliged with an ultra close swim past ,but nearly clubbed me with its tail:

phew that was close

Hezzer controlled the mothership and narrowly avoided being tipped out again when I wallowed back onto the kayak like a harpooned seal.

LUNKERS AT LAND’S END

Not being quite sure of whether my priorities were fishing or wildlife encounters today, my kayak was armed to the teeth with two rods,all manner of lethal lures,a couple of cameras and a hefty Cranberry and Orange cake courtesy of Waitrose ( just a normal fruitcake would have been fine if you had bothered to stock it, or is that a bit too Morrison’s for you?). But no suncream…..bad news.

You have to squeeze through a bit of a tunnel to get at the sea at Porthgwarra:

Before I had even planted my butt on my kayak seat the excitement level of the day was set when a pair of choughs appeared on the cliff above, chattering excitedly over what one of them had found beneath a bit of sheep dung.

I paddled east as I wanted to avoid the hefty swell on the exposed west facing coast. Wind was very light easterly so no problem. Porthcurno Bay never fails to impress: a spectacular amphitheatre of granite cliffs with a couple of gems of golden beaches opens up before you as you round the headland with the ridiculous name of Pedn-men-an-mere. The sandy bottom produces surely the most turquoise water in Cornwall. And all the time there is a constant stream of gannets just a bit further out which every so often group together and pile into the water with a hell of a splash. There’s plenny of fish out there.

However I only landed a couple of the compulsory piffling pollack until I switched to a big Rapala lure beyond Penberth cove. As I was fiddling about a decent pollack took my rubber sand eel with quite a rush.

And then barely had my jointed Rapala started doing its wibbly wobbly stuff as I rounded Merthen Point when the line really buzzed out. I knew I had my first bass of the season on the line because the resistance more or less went till I had the fish in sight right beside the kayak. This is typical of larger bass. They go with the flow until they see you glaring down at them and then crash dive. Understandable, I suppose. Another reasonable fish:

My 2010 bass drought ends here

At Boscawen point I thought it was time for a bit of bottom fishing so I pointed directly offshore and paddled out for a mile. Lovely calm conditions. My mackerel feathers had just about got to them bottom when the line went heavy with a couple of slow tugs. To my great surprise up came a couple of one-and-a-half pound cod…..I’ve only ever caught two tiddlers in the previous ten years.

Double cod (no chips)

The action just didn’t stop….. six or seven more cod up to two pounds; a barely detectable tug produced a launce,

and a marginally greater struggle produced one of my favourites-the absurdly unbritish and brightly coloured Red Gurnard. These boldly grunt their disapproval of being hauled up from the depths so I put it back (along with all the others,today) .

Burnard the Gurnard
Burnard focus on face

Alien told us that in space no-one can hear you scream and the same principle applies when you are a mile offshore in a kayak by yourself. This is a bad thing if you are befallen by some disaster (or indeed being consumed by an alien), but quite handy if you don’t want anyone to hear or see you because you are making a complete berk of yourself. Robert Green take note.

And boy was I about to have a max cringeworthy moment. My rod bent double and proceeded to steadily creak up and down as if the biggest fish to have ventured into Atlantic recently was hanging of the end of my 99p mackerel feathers. My kayak seemed to be moving quite fast through the water and I held on tight for over 15 minutes until my forearms got cramp and sweat beaded on my top lip. Doubts began to creep in…funny how the great beast only tugged the tip of my rod down as the kayak rode over a swell…..what a gink!-snagged on the bottom….again!                                                                                             

On the way back I took another swoop round Porthcurno Bay. There was a performance on at the Minack theatre and I caught the occasional shriek of one of the cast giving it his or her Shakespearian all, but they sounded more like a pack of dogs. The Hound of the Baskervilles, maybe?

Action at the Minack

My lack of suncream was beginning to tell as I felt my scalp beginning to crisp up like Danepack on the barbeque. The forecast  had said cloudy with thundery outbursts. These were clear to see half a mile inland but over the sea it was clear blue sky and being early June the fry factor was off the scale. So I had to take my thermal t-shirt off and wrap it rounded my balding pate.

Rupert of Pedn-men-an-mere

The swell was still slurping around the headlands which had prevented me getting out for a leg stretch so my posterior was a tad numb after eight hours in the seat.

Back at Porthgwarra the tide race was beginning to zip and I tried a bit more bottom fishing but without success. Well it hadn’t been a bad day. Six different species….those mentioned plus a few mackerel.

Yikes, the vast dark shape of a basking shark suddenly appeared about a yard to my right, cruising along happy as Larry with fins out of water. TOP excitement. MUCH longer than my kayak-getting on for twenty foot. It was lazily pursued by another but my one -to -one encounter with one of natures extreme beasts was messed up by some snorkellers shark watching from a RIB…..cheating!

Basker and bloater

So I went off and found another couple of sharks that were unnoticed and undisturbed and as I sat quietly watching them as they duly obliged by circling around right past and underneath me time and time again. And of course I had to capture that monumental gape by dunking my camera just beneath the surface:

There were loads of little blue jellyfish around today and one of them had the incredible misfortune of finding itself right in the gapepath of the shark where its future wellbeing REALLY did not want it to be.

swim,jellyfish swim

Phew, escaped….just.

but look out, there's another one behind

Another action-packed day. I clocked up a feeble fifteen miles which is pretty pathetic but the reason I paddle such a long way during winter and spring trips is because I get so cold when I stop for any length of time. That’s why sitting about bottom fishing is often out of the question especially during this particularly parky spring. And that’s why I was wearing a thermal t-shirt despite roasting temperatures today-didn’t dare risk it.

Land’s end. It’s the best.

GANNETS GALORE

Couldn’t resist a quick paddle round the Bass Rock during a recent trip to bonnie Scotland. It’s a tiny island in the Firth of Forth and if you are a gannet fan like me you will be in heaven. Where else could you have two hundred six-foot wingspan aerial dive bombers circling overhead?…..