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.


 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.

2 thoughts on “50lb TOPE

  1. Absolutely amazing achievement, well done, i’ve caught smaller tope, but never been so brave as to allow one to accompany me in the yak, what next, perhaps a blue or portabeagle?

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