“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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So no more Tope.Not such a bad thing.