Humungus Tope

Another extraordinary afternoon. The late September weather plumbed new depths of  greyness, cheerlessness and dampness but at least the wind was lightish on Devon’s Bristol Channel coast.

I was after Tope again and  had a load of frozen pollack and mackerel from the freezer as bait. to cut a very long story short I sat and drifted for nearlysix hours and got very cold in the relentless heavy drizzle…..if I hadn’t been wearing a drysuit and had the inspiration to grab my wetsuit balaclava as I left the house I would have packed it in after a couple of hours. The occasional passing visit of a couple of porpoises gave me a flicker of interest, but despite constantly changing presentation of my bait on the end of the wire traces, I had absolutely no bites at all for about four hours.

It was only because the fishing season was drawing to a close I forced myself to stay longer. And there was just that faint hope that something might happen when the tide started to come in.

Woopee. I hooked a dogfish as I was winding in to check the bait. couldn’t even be bothered to take a photo as my hands were so cold and fingers starting to fumble.

As a last gasp effort I hooked up a whole mackerel  and when the weight hit the bottom I let the spool arm off and just let the line feed out as the kayak drifted along on the tide, so the bait was stationary on the bottom for a while. Of course this didn’t work, but I repeated it a couple of times. Nothing to suggest there were any fish within ten miles of here. I tried again in a half-hearted slovenly manner and suddenly the line went very heavy and a couple of mighty tugs followed.

My body wouldn’t have been hurled from such torpor to extreme action if I had sat on a scorpion. The fish set off and the line poured off the reel in an extremely satisfactory manner. I tightened the drag as I was worried I would run out of line but the ‘run’ probably only lasted for five seconds. Like last time I swung the end of the rod over the front of the kayak and let the fish pull the kayak along….a great way to tire it out, surely.

After about ten minutes it at last appeared beside me at the surface and….good grief it was even bigger than last weeks fish…..amazing. I hauled it aboard with its pectoral fin and got the hook out of the corner of its mouth with no problem.

Another huge tope aboard

I made a few crude measurements to try to calculate the fish’s weight. About six foot long and trunk diameter of about ten inches……must be about 65 lbs!!!!!!

65 lb Tope

 I thought I’d better attempt to get a goofy pic of me as well as the shark in case any doubting Thomas thinks I have photo-shopped somebody else’s fish.

The cold old man and the sea

 I can’t quite believe that the only two Tope I have caught have been such whoppers. Clearly skill and fishing expertise can be the only explanation.

50lb TOPE

The run of very unsettled weather meant that the only bit of open sea which would be vaguely calm today would be somewhere along the North Devon coast, offering protection from the moderate SSW wind and meaty swell pounding the western facing beaches.

I launched from Combe Martin and within five minutes was completely absorbed watching a small school of porpoises. They are funny little creatures and show no interest in kayaks (unlike most other marine beasts that usually come over for a bit of a snoop) and just get on with their own thing.

Combe Martin porpoise

 You can hear them blowing from a long way away but they are very difficult to photograph as the delay in their appearance at the surface to the desperate click on the shutter usually means a photo of a disappearing fin. You don’t want to know how many pics I took just to get these two images.

Porpoise. Unobtrusive and aloof, but endearing

I followed the outgoing tide west past Watermouth and Rillage point towing all manner of lures and plugs and caught no fish. And on past Ilfracombe.

Oh Blimey. The weather was drab and I was pulling into a stiff headwind and seemed to be making very little progess. Bull point, my intended destination, was four miles away but I really couldn’t be bothered. And the tide appeared to be coming in an hour early. Weird.

Ifracombe.

 So I turned around and with the current and wind in my favour drifted back east a lot faster than my outward trip. I towed a Rapala and on the other rod used feathers near the bottom. Still nothing so I added a ‘Gulp’ sandeel to the feathers. And at last, just when the towel was about to be thrown in, up came a pathetically small pollack. I very, very nearly put it straight back but as I had made the effort to come all this way  I crudely cut a five inch fillet off its side with my scissors and attached it to my wire trace (starting to get a bit rusty!) and dropped it to the bottom.

I lay back in my seat and consumed not only my five weetabix I had brought for breakfast (highly recommended) but also half a packet of chocolate digestives and a Bounty Trio I had bought for lunch. It was one of those days. Then it started to rain as a thunderstorm rolled past up the west coast.

Wet Exmoor

I was vacantly watching the distant display of lightning when my line buzzed out for a second and I sprang to life. Something was repeatedly knocking my pollack fillet. Then it was gone. Back to the lightning show.

I have recently invested in a decent reel. I nearly bought a multiplier but wisely (in my view) opted for a Penn Sargus fixed spool reel. It’s so much more straightforward and, much more importantly, makes a very satisfactory clicking noise when a fish pulls the line out. Not that that has ever really happened in nearly ten years of kayak fishing and approaching 6000 miles of paddling. Until now.

The line buzzed briefly so I wound in a bit because I assumed I had snagged the bottom. Wallop! The rod bent over and there was a mighty downward tug.BIG fish. Get it off the bottom quick.

I reeled in but had the drag set fairly cautiously so as much went out as I took back. And then the fish took off and the line buzzed out (to say the reel screamed would be over-egging it) for a good five seconds. A tope run? As the weight got heavy again I swung the rod tip over the nose of the kayak and got the fish to pull me along. I wasn’t in any hurry and towing me around the bay would soon tire anything out. Another run and probably six or seven minutes later the beast started to come to the surface. At last it came into view.

Tope on the surface

 Yippee it’s my first tope but O.M.G. it’s a whopper! A bit more thrashing about and I got it to the side of the kayak…..hook doesn’t look very well attached!

Hope you're not planning to use those teeth.

I was very concerned about causing damage to this extraordinary creature as I hauled it on board so grabbed hold of its pectoral fin and its tail stock and in it came. Fantastic.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 Quick. Get a few photos and then get it back into the water as soon as poss.

A bit of kayakfull

 The hook was in fact not easy to extract but one more pic and the fish slipped back into the water and swum away gently.

Phew. Didn’t fancy getting chewed by those teeth or tangled up in a wire trace (or struck by lightning) while half a mile offshore by myself.
 
So how heavy was it? Severe danger of exaggeration here. I had guessed 30-40lbs when I had it on board but taking measurements using reference points of it in my kayak I calculate it was in excess of 50lbs.
 
Wow, my slothful and achy muscles were injected with adrenaline and on the three mile paddle back to the car, against the wind and tide, I  overtook a couple of serious sea kayakers. I was virtually planing.
 
A final cup of tea while absorbing the view of the receding storm.
 
Another personal ambition ticked off, to match finding a Dotterel’s nest on top of the Cairngorms, meeting Captain Sensible, kayaking from Scilly to Cornwall, and sitting in the cockpit of a Sukhoi Flanker. What next?
 
 Afternote:  From the photos the Tope was 28″ from nose to back of its dorsal fin so that would make it 56″ total from nose to tail notch. Girth diameter was at least 9″ (probably 10″) giving a circumference of 28″. This gives a weight of 55lbs.

KAYAK-FISHING SPAIN

THE COSTA DEL SOL.

You either love it or you hate it. Over 50 miles of  one legendary seaside resort of white hotels and apartments slurring into the next without a break, and all hemmed in against the beaches by the legendarily lethal coast road.Torremolinos, Fuengirola, Puerto Banus, to name but a few.

I’m non-plussed about beaches like this:

Heaving Med beach

But if you can lay your hands on a nice comfy sit-on-top kayak, within a few strokes from the shore you can be in your own little dream world and the vista is transformed to something more like this:

That's better

 And it’s so warm that you don’t have to wrestle into wetsuits or drysuits…..beach shorts and a generous dollop of suncream are all that’s required. And when you get out of the water you don’t have to towel yourself off before hypothermia sets in. In fact the temperature is so pleasant that kayaking suddenly becomes fun for all the family.

Prowler 13 vs RTM Disco (or equivalent)

 So next all you have to do is wait till your family get out of the kayaks, and hope there’s a few fish knocking about. You fear the worst considering the background noise for the entire day is the powerful drone of a hoard of trawlers.

An early start is essential. Dawn always seems to produce the fish and forcing yourself to get up early on holiday means that you have to also force yourself not to have too much San Miguel the night before. Not easy. But it’s worth it for a sunrise like this:

I'm beginning to like this place
.....and it looks like it could turn out nice

Let’s try some high speed trolling behind the very shapely and fast sea-kayak-looky-likey Disco. And within a minute the rod rattles and your first Spanish fish is on……and what a little beauty……an Annular Bream. Didn’t know Bream went for plugs.

Annular Bream. What a little beauty.

There are loads of fish swirling at the surface so it can’t be long before another hit on the plug.Rather surprised nothing happens so wind in and check the lure is OK and there is a scad. How on earth did that hook itself without me noticing- it can’t have put up any fight AT ALL.

Scad. As exciting to catch as kelp.

OK it was only the first half hour of Day 1 of a week’s holiday and I was very happy I had caught fish, but I had put myself under a bit of pressure to catch something BIG. At least that is the impression that was given by my suitcase bulging with deep diving plugs and all sorts of other ferocious, and clearly suspicious-looking ,fishing clobber which caused red lights to flash at the airport check-in and uniformed officers with furrowed brows to mobilise from distant rooms.

So I felt I had to head offshore to get as much depth as possible below me as surely there lurked the school of tuna. Yes I know tuna in the Mediterranean are as good as extinct but I only want to catch one, and I promise to put it back.

No tuna of course but I was completely enthralled by the seabirds which were sitting about on the surface, plunge -diving and cruising around and zipping past my kayak with inches to spare. Cory’s Shearwaters, with their four- foot plus wingspan justifiably called the ‘Little Albatrosses’ of the Mediterranean.

Confiding Cory's Shearwater

 One kept circling particularly close and was perhaps mistaking me for a pile of oceanic offal (one of their favourite snacks). Good photo opportunity though:

Charismatic Cory's Shearwater

 I gulped when I noticed my GPS showed I was two miles offshore…no wonder the trawlermen were looking at me a bit funny. Time for breakfast. I trolled a mini plug on one side and a Rapala Sliver on the other as I paddled back in . Closer inshore I hooked a load of Chum Mackerel on the smaller lure, and my Sliver really buzzed out but whatever it was got off.

Next day dawned a bit threatening.

Dodgy day dawning

 Blooming typical. Why is it whenever we go anywhere where it is almost guaranteed to be sunny and not to rain, the clouds roll in and the heavens open? Aha, but the fishing is often better. I trolled along the coast as I didn’t fancy being offshore in the freshening wind and swell. Yes…..a swell in the blooming mediterranean. In fact when I passed a headland there was a decent point break that would have done credit to the north coast of Cornwall. Including surfers!

What is going on……is this really the Med?

 My line with the Sliver on reeled out…..FISH ON, and it was a bit of a fighter. I reeled it in very cautiously and a chunky garfish type fish came on board.

Looks a bit like a Barracuda to me

 It thrashed about a bit and succeeded in sinking a hook beyond the barb into the flesh of my inner thigh. Maybe not wearing a wet suit isn’t such a good idea after all! It took some yanking out with forceps and not a little blood.

Anyway back to the fish. Surely that’s a Barracuda…not the biggest but a Barracuda none the less. Top entertainment.

Baby Barracuda

 For the rest of the week normal service was resumed in terms of sun and heat but there remained a bit of a swell. Family fun on the kayaks.

I hope those feet don't belong to the same person

 Time to get offspring inspired by kayak fishing……..’Dad, I’ve caught a fish,what do I do?’…. ‘Just gently try to take it off the hook…..it’s probably a mackerel….it won’t hurt you…..what does it look like?…. ‘It’s long and brown with blue dots on it’s side and it’s eyes are pointing upwards and its got a spiky fin on it’s back’…..’,aaaargh, don’t touch it whatever you do….sounds like a WEEVER FISH….yikes!

Watch that weever

 I thought weever fish lurked on the bottom waiting for unsuspecting swimmers to tread on their spiky fins. They’ve got no business getting caught on a trolled lure. When I tried a bit of bottom fishing using mackerel feathers spiced up with a mackerel strip I did indeed catch more weevers.

Greater Weever

 When I let the one in the photo go I was absolutely gob-smacked when the gull (which you will have noticed lurking in the background), swooped in and grabbed the fish before it could come to its senses and crash dive to freedom. I would have pointed out that it’s really not a good idea to mess with a weever and its poison spikes and gill covers but being a Spanish seagull there was something of a language barrier.

Unsuspecting gull thinks it has got an easy lunch

 Bottom fishing half a mile from the shore produced quite a few small brightly coloured fish which I think are called ‘Combers’.

Comber, I think

So at the end of the week I had caught a decent amount of fish but not the great beast I had hoped for despite dragging around some seriously business-like lures for over 50 miles. Mind you , with idiots like this around we were lucky to get back without being pulverised:

Speeding King of Bling

But hang on what have we got here, a ferocious fighter on the line and half way between a tuna and a mackerel.It’s a Bonito.

Bonito

So farewell Spain and farewell this kind of dawn (probably).

Last Spanish sunrise for a while