Another thumping great Tope

“Dad, I want to go shark-fishing.”

Yes, fine, Hezzer. But it’s not that simple. I can’t be bothered to drive up to the north coast of Devon where I have caught tope before in September, and I’m really not sure that they are about off the north coast of Cornwall at this time of year. But given that the area has a bit of a reputation for sharks we will give it a go , but probably not catch anything.

Light winds and small swell so it will be an enjoyable day loafing about anyway.

Hezzer was keen to improve on his previous best fish which he hooked at a local carp lake when he was about twelve. He came home on successive days bursting with excitement that he had landed an eighteen, then nineteen, then the magical twenty pound fish. It was only when we studied the photos that we noticed it was in fact the same carp that had been gorging on the bread Hezzer had been using for bait and gradually getting fatter. You can see by the fish’s expression that it’s got a sort of ‘its worth the risk of getting hooked occasionally’ look.

Hezzer plus bread-filled carp
Hezzer plus bread-filled carp

So out came the Perception Scooter Gemini double sit-on-top kayak and we headed off down to a beach a couple of miles south of Bude. We were armed with pretty basic fishing equipment, as with ‘two up’ there isn’t a lot of deck space left. Two six foot boat rods with spinning reels, a couple of sets of mackerel feathers, and three or four tope traces.

The plan was to paddle a couple of miles down the coast and then swing offshore as the flood tide kicked in, and drift back up on the tidal current.But first we had to catch some mackerel as shark bait, and as usual it wasn’t that easy. Groan. An hour in and we hadn’t caught a single fish.

But suddenly three mackerel on the feathers and we were in business. The mackerel were rapidly despatched and turn into ‘flappers’ , attached to the wire tope traces and dropped to near the bottom.

At last, some shark bait
At last, some shark bait

And then we waited. I have mentioned before that sitting in a kayak half-a-mile offshore for hours on end isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Personally I enjoy every minute of it and I was quietly pleased that Hezzer showed no signs of boredom kicking in either. We were joined by a ‘friend’ in the form of a fulmar that cranked some pretty impressive turns with g-forces that could have snapped its wings off, before settling on the sea beside us. I slung it bits of mackerel offal that it wolfed down with relish.( No, I hadn’t brought any of that along too).

Fulmar flypast
Fulmar flypast

And we waited. Incredibly Hezzer dozed off. Incredible because I have never known anyone actually nod off on a kayak, even though they are stable enough to allow such slumber, and I have often been tempted. I’ve always been a bit worried about having my nose (or worse) pecked by a Great Black-backed gull.

zzzzzz
zzzzzz

Two hours in, out of the blue, Hezzer hooked a fish. A big one, his rod twitched and the buckled over and line was ripped from the reel. He was catapulted into wakefulness  and I told him not to rush getting the fish up to the kayak. Swing the rod over the front of the kayak and let it pull us along to tire it out.

A real rod-bender
A real rod-bender

All went according to plan, it had a couple more runs, and then started to come up. I suspect the fish had just caught sight of our kayak as it was pulled up from the depths and crash-dived, and suddenly the line went slack. Double groan… it had got off ,and inspection of the end of the line was even more frustrating as the wire had pulled out from the crimp and the hook had come off. Not impressive for a factory made trace.

What a pity…and it was a BIG fish..I rather think it was too big for a tope.

As a rather pathetic consolation prize Hezzer caught a single dogfish.

Dogfish (barking?)
Dogfish (barking?)

So next day we went back even though there was a niggly NW wind messing up the surface and making the loafing about a bit less loafing. No chance of nodding off today.

Hezzer nobly volunteered not to take a paddle so that he could concentrate on the fishing. I laboured out directly offshore into the chop…1.87 miles to be precise. No problem catching a load of mackerel today, We were fully armed and dangerous. But the fast drift rate on the wind meant we kept snagging the bottom, and it was amazing we didn’t lose any tackle.

Just like yesterday, we didn’t have anything remotely resembling a bite for two hours.But  it was a lot colder than yesterday, so we decided to give it five more minutes and give up.

Wallop, Hezzer’s rod buckled over and we thought it was another snag, but no! there was life on the line, and it soon tore off with some line. I was hoping that the extra squash I gave to the crimp with a pair of pliers would do the job this time, but even so Hezzer took it very steady and let the beast have plenty of line.

tope bite day 2
tope bite day 2

The great brown shape appeared out of the depths..it was a cracking fish. After a couple more nerve-wracking dives and I was able to grab its pectoral fin  and tail stock and slither it aboard. Yippee.

Quick, get the hook out of its mouth. Not easy and it kept putting its nose alarmingly close to my leg. Close behind its nose was a mouthful of extremely sharp teeth.

Hook out, Hezzer nearly tipped the kayak over turning round for his photo.

Wrestling the tope. about equal on points.
Wrestling the tope. about equal on points.

But it seemed quite at home on his lap for the big photo.P1060842

I was pretty keen to get the fish back in the water but remembered to get its vital statistics to estimate the weight, using the convenient tape measure I had in my tackle box. Twenty-seven and-a-half inch girth and five foot long. Gives a weight of 55lbs. Could have been more, I think.

55lb Cornish tope
55lb Cornish tope

Then we got greedy and went back for a third afternoon. Bad move. We appeared to be in something of a weather window when we arrived at the coast. Surrounded by hefty black showers but a clear slot overhead with light winds.

We paddled a mile out,and caught one mackerel and one Red gurnard which grunted a lot before spiking me with its dorsal fin.

Red Gurnard
Red Gurnard

The light NW wind died away completely, Good, but it had a ‘calm before the storm’ feel about it. Our friend for the afternoon was a young Great Black-backed Gull which are usually timid but this one was as bold as they come.

Feed me
Feed me

 

Get off. You are not a Tope.
Get off. You are not a Tope.

While bobbing about a mile offshore I was aware of a backgound roar. This is fairly usual for this coast as there is often a swell booming on the shore. But this roar was coming from the open sea. Yikes. That looks like a load of whitecaps approaching, and that lightning was a bit too close for comfort. I wish my paddle was made of plastic and not carbon fibre. I might as well have been standing on top of a church spire holding a lightning conductor.

We made a dash for the shore but got completely consumed in the deluge.

A drop of rain
A drop of rain

It might have been helpful if Hezzer had brought a paddle along as its hard to top 2.5mph with only one paddler on these beamy kayaks, but at least it kept me warm while Hezzer’s core temperature steadily dropped.P1060875

So no more Tope.Not such a bad thing.

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Eddystone Alone

I very nearly went to Lundy but aborted the trip because I didn’t have the guts. Although the sea was calm it was just about the biggest tidal range of the year and I was a bit worried about the tide races….not a place to get into trouble by yourself.

But I really fancied an offshore paddle so the Eddystone lighthouse seemed a good second bet, twelve miles out from Plymouth breakwater.

Cawsand was my departure point, at dawn.

Cawsand dawn
Cawsand dawn

I was dead excited about this trip as I hoped to have more epic wildlife encounters. No fishing rod I’m afraid.  Last time I came out here we caught hardle any fish and saw very little else. In fact I think I caught only one pollack and a Herring gull (on a plug).

So I was more than pleased when I nearly bumped into a Basking shark only half a mile off Penlee Point. Not the biggest, but a top sighting as they are nothing like as common around here as they are at Land’s End.

Modest basking shark
Modest basking shark

There was the Eddystone like a stick on the horizon. This kind of paddling is not everyone’s cup of tea, I know. Over three hours of potentially pretty tedious stuff. But if you like your sea creatures there is rarely a minute without something going on at this time of year (hopefully). I was rather flattered that quite a few gannets interrupted their flight path parallel to the coast to follow me for a while because I obviously looked like I might have a few fish on board, or drop them over the edge. One immature bird did a few circuits around at close range. Big birds…six foot wingspan.

Gannet for company
Gannet for company

Next on the sea beast list was a sunfish, which I sneaked upon as close as possible but it slunk under the waves when I got too close, like they usually do.

Shy sunfish
Shy sunfish

The surface glassed off to a flat calm as I neared the light, and a couple of storm petrels passed in front of me. Havn’t seen any of those since the Scilly crossing three years ago.

Distant Eddystone
Distant Eddystone

I stopped for my Weetabix three miles short of the lighthouse and as usual the final approach seemed long. There were a cluster of fishing boats over the tide race just in front of the light and one caught a decent sized bass as I was passing. I joked that I wish I had brought my fishing rod and would just nip back to Plymouth and get it. The fisherman replied “OK”.

I circled round the ferocious fangs of reef behind the lighthouse, paddled back between the old lighthouse stump and the new one, and then there was nothing for it but……paddle back.

Eddystone Lighthouse. Stuff of legend.
Eddystone Lighthouse. Stuff of legend.

To make it a decent day out I thought I would take a ‘slingshot’ around the Mew stone and then cross back across the mouth of Plymouth sound to Cawsand. So I would be crossing different water and may see more stuff. I wasn’t disappointed.

Just when the water was about its flattest I heard the ‘piffing’ of cetaceans quite a long way off and saw a large patch of disturbed water approaching from the east. By sheer good luck it was heading straight towards me and I soon recognised the big beefy shapes of a fair sized school of bottlenose dolphins. Fantastic. I just sat and waited and they all piled in towards me when they sensed my presence.

Bottlenose dolphin pair
Bottlenose dolphin pair

They surged all around and swam just underneath the surface looking up at me. And I’m pretty sure I that the sound I heard like a creaking door  must have been coming from them. Certainly no creaking doors ten miles out to sea off Plymouth although it could have been my excitement centres in my cerebral cortex grinding into overload and on the verge of meltdown.

There must have been about fifteen of them including some quite small calves and they splashed and circled me for a good five minutes. They are pretty sizable creatures and they don’t half shift underwater. A bit of a different experience to the lumbering lethargic lump that is a basking shark.

Underwater dolphin trio
Underwater dolphin trio

As a farewell display half a dozen exploded out of the water in front of me, and then they carried on their way to the west.

Surrounded by dolphins
Surrounded by dolphins

That was a difficult act to follow but the jellyfish tried hard in a squidgy sort of a way. And Compass jellyfish are very striking creatures.

Compass Jellyfish
Compass Jellyfish

I had dodged quite a few boats all day ranging from fishing boats to yachts and the odd small trawler, but as I was watching the dolphins I noticed a large box-shape on the horizon that was rapidly growing bigger. Oops, the Roscoff ferry, and it was heading straight towards me.

I hoped that the rules of engagement state that multi thousand ton ships give way to 23 kg (excluding paddler,and lunch) kayaks. And as I was in mid hope it turned to the right, or should I say starboard, and proceeded to take a big loop around me. I would have given the officer of the watch my one remaining Kitkat Chunky if I could.

The 'Armorique' on collision alert.
The ‘Armorique’ on collision alert.

There was plenty more interest to come in the remaining five miles to the coast. Porpoises, loads of them. Five different groups. They are funny aloof little creatures. Completely the opposite to the dolphins who come charging over for a look and all but jump in your kayak. If you see a porpoise surface close by, there’s a good chance next time it pops up it will be quater of a mile away. Although there were so many they were surfacing all over the place.

Elusive porpoise
Elusive porpoise

I circuited the Mew stone and cruised back to Cawsand and the comfort of the coast. Bit busy. Maybe I should have been a porpoise.