Sharks

The (BIG) one that got away
The (BIG) one that got away
Dreamy blue jellyfish
Dreamy blue jellyfish
Boscastle dogfish
Boscastle dogfish
P1060373
50lb Boscastle Tope
50lb Boscastle Tope
I had been keeping an eye on the sea conditions at Boscastle for a month. I wanted to coincide a day off with little or no wind, and ideally not a lot of swell, to make the experience more relaxing and enjoyable.

And the tides had to be just right to allow me to catch the ebb down to Tintagel Head,catch a few mackerel on the way, and then just sit tight and drift four miles back up the coast as the flow came back in again, with juicy lures of fresh whole mackerel or mackerel fillet legered down to the bottom and leaving an oily smelly mackerelly trail in their wake which any self-respecting fishy predator would find hard to resist.

I had tried this technique in exactly these conditions last year and had lost two BIG fish beacause I was not using wire traces and they had bitten/rubbed through the line.

The stage was set again. Sea pretty calm. Tides perfect. Overcast sky should help, sea fishing never seems so productive in bright sun, although the experience of bobbing about on the sea is more enjoyable.

And Boscastle always lures me back. Is it the fishing, is it the guillemot colony and puffins, is it the chance of an encounter with dolphins, sunfish, seals or basking sharks, or is it the Museum of Witchcraft?

Boscastle Museum of witchcraft
Boscastle Museum of witchcraft
All went smoothly and I was sitting off Tintagel head at the turn of the tide. But I hadn’t caught any mackerel, just one snivvling pollack that I put back.

The tide hadn’t kicked in and there were no bites on the feathers. Looks like it would be another day of watching the auks and shearwaters zip past and listening to kittiwakes screaming ‘kit-ee-wake’.

Phew….I hauled up two mackerel and they were soon filleted, hooked up to my ‘Tronixpro’ wire Tope traces and dropped to the bottom. And I waited. And the tide got going and ruffled things up a bit. And after an hour I was convinced I was not going to catch. But I resisted the temptation to change back to feathers to liven up the action (for the first time ever). I was going to keep fresh mackerel on both lines to maximise the scent trail, and sit out the boredom. Mind you, if there’s one place you are not going to get bored, it is Boscastle. Great scenery.

Boscastle scene
Boscastle scene
Even so, I had eaten my lunch and afternoon snack and drunk the contents of both thermoses by 2.30pm, so it must have been verging on tedious.

Then my the tip of my rod dipped a couple of times, and the reel ticked, just a bit. I grabbed it just as it bent over and line poured out of the reel. I was hurled from total torpor to max-out adrenaline rush in about 0.3 seconds.

The line slackened I reeled in the great dead weight a bit, then it tore off again with more line. Surely a Tope. I peered over the edge into the depths as I was sure I was eventually winning the fight and would soon see my opponent, when the line went completely slack. Groan. Inspection of the broken end showed it had been ‘rubbed’ through…serves me right for having only 35lb line, even though it was connected to a metre of wire trace.

Back to the waiting game as I drifted past Bossiney. Another couple of twitches on my short rod and it exploded into action with line being ripped out.I couldn’t help putting my thumb on the reel to slow it down as I was worried about running out of line, but it slowed down and I tightened up the drag, swung the rod over the front of the kayak and allowed the fish to pull me along. It did so at quite an impressive speed before stopping an proving very reluctant to pull up from the depths. I was in no hurry and took it steady. I knew this was a big fish (no…really…durr).

Then something really weird happened. A commotion on the surface about twenty yards away caught my eye and I saw a great narrow angular fin break the surface for a split second. Oh blimey, I hope I havn’t caught that beast because I’m pretty sure that was a Thresher Shark. But no, my line was still angled straight down not along the surface. (would have been a bit of sport though).

After about twenty minutes and another couple of blistering runs I saw my fish emerge from the depths….the pale shape of a pretty hefty tope, foul-hooked behind the gills. I eased it into the kayak and got the hook out with no problem, took a couple of pics, and let it go.

As my pulse rate dropped back down below that of a shrew on a bike, I realised that it really was a big tope, about six foot long and so at least 50lbs. And what about that other shark? Perhaps the commotion of the hooked tope kicked off a sort of frenzy. Lucky they didn’t all develop an appetite for a sixteen foot long slab of rotomoulded plastic, plus contents (albeit a bit sinewy and bald).

Back to the waiting game and I was soon running out of mackerel as another big bite followed by big fight ended when my (factory-made) TronixPro hook pulled out from the crimp which attached it to the wire. Gnash, chomp,annoyance,expletive.

I ran into a short run of dogfish and then another mighty tussle ended with me pulling up only half a mackerel…..if only I had threaded the hook a bit further down the body……..

Time to go home.

Four big bites in four hours of drifting on the incoming tide.Happy with that, although would have been happier if I had landed all the fish. Was one the Thresher????

Maybe next time.

Dim Pysgod yng Nghymru (No Fish in Wales)

I do like Wales. Within a three hour drive of West Devon you can be absorbed into a world of mighty hills and wooded valleys. Oh, and a barrage of confusing Welsh road signs. If you don’t know where you are going, or have forgotten Tomtom, there is a good chance you will have driven past the sign before you have deciphered any worthwhile information from it, as the Welsh version of even common names tend to be on the lengthy side.

But the upside of this is that there are some great signposts.Wouldn’t it be great to tell people you lived in the village of Plwmp?:

Plwmp and somewhere else

I was itching to have a crack at kayaking along some of the scenic Pembrokeshire coast after I dropped my son Tim off at Aberystwyth Uni. His flat however was designed for hobbits and I split the top of my head open while taking his bean bag upstairs. Fortunately I wasn’t intending to meet anyone in the next 24 hours so they couldn’t laugh at the great scab on my scalp.

I parked up at Pwllgwaelod on the west side of the neck of Dinas Island and before settling into the comfort of the back of my car for the night, I went to the tip of the headland to watch the sun go down. I am going through a dolphin phase at the minute so was thrilled to see a bottlenose dolphin leaping about in front of the orange sunset glow, and then a few more quite close in. A good omen for tomorrow.

Strumble head sunset

I was on the water pre -sunrise but despite comprehensive quartering of the water I had been observing last night  I encountered no dolphins. And the end of Dinas Head was a bit lumpy. Tide race and a bit of a wind let to a confused surface so I was glad I was in my superstable Tarpon 160.

I crossed the more sheltered waters of Newport Bay, still expecting a cetacean encounter, but the sea was empty. And despite switching from Rapala plug to trolled feathers, I caught no fish at all. Surely more luck as I coast hugged on the way back….must be a bass or two around.

My interests went retro as I was entertained by the healthy variety of Welsh coastal birds. I’ve been a bird nerd since before I could walk. It’s a useful hobby to have up your sleeve in case the fishing is poor and keeps you paddling when otherwise you might give up and go to the tea shop.

First of all a pair of kites were hanging about over a hilltop.

Red kite plus crow escort

And then a peregrine falcon was very agitated and plunging at a pair of ravens that were snooping about too close to its patch of cliff for comfort. It did a complete loop the loop ….never seen that before. Legs on the outside so at the top of the loop it was upside down.

Peregrine-avoid if you are a snack-sized bird

Back around Dinas head I forced my aching arms for a bit further exploration of the coast, into a stiff headwind, towards Fishguard. Nice dramatic rock formation:

Dinas Head and Needle rock

and a waterlevel view if the departing ferry to Rosslare.

Fishguard ferry

Although I was trolling all day I was absolutely gob-smacked I didn’t get a single bite all day. A fishing disaster. But still good fun. Well, fairly.

But September hasn’t been completely devoid of fish. A half-hearted attempt at tope- fishing on the Exmoor coast was thwarted by an unexpectedly strong wind so I was forced into hugging the shore and plugging for bass. Three fish, one about three pounds. All put back.

Exmoor bass

My heart leapt in my mouth as I nearly ran over a basking sunfish off Headon’s mouth and it splashed into a crash-dive, although I suspect its pulse rate  peaked higher than mine given the relative sizes of the creatures involved. A lot of sunfish around this year.

Evasive sunfish

Once again highlight of the day was non-fishy, and quite unexpected. I was having time out on a tiny sandy cove when the Waverley paddle steamer sploshed past, took a swoop around Combe Martin bay, and carried on up the coast. An excellent spectacle  of an ancient vessel. (oh blimey, just had a google at when it was built and it’s only thirteen years older than me…cripes!)

Waverley and Exmoor coast

Combe Martin beachside carpark is very expensive , presumably because they have  a very plush lavatory block and a shower. However I would have expected a bit of discount because of the threat of electrocution:

Autumn is moving in. Starting to get a bit panicky about continuing crummy weather and lack of kayak fishing opportunity. But Saturday is looking promising, and there are reports of a lot of basking sharks  at Land’s End. Looks like there’s the tricky choice of mowing the lawn or driving down to Sennen for some high octane thrills with the biggest fish of them all , or ‘ y pysgodyn mwyaf ohonynt i gyd’, as the welsh would say.

Land’s End

Sennen cove is a stunning spot. We opted to paddle around the jaw dropping headlands and coves to Land’s End proper, through waters rarely quiet enough for a recreational double sit-on-top. Beneath the arch at Enys Dodman we had a close encounter with a young seal who just bawled it’s indignance at us from close range and didn’t move.

Just as we turned to go back as the wind was starting to pick up we noticed the sun glinting off a triangular shape about half a mile offshore. It was a basking shark, and it was a whopper. My wife has never encountered such a beast before and as we sprinted to get a bit ahead of it so it would cruise directly past us she started to doubt. We sat and gaped as it torpedoed past a few feet from us. The shark gaped back.

…..gulp….

On showing Becky this image later, she quietly contemplated the fact that we were half a mile offshore in the most exposed location in the whole of SW England, with a multi-ton creature a lot longer and a lot wider than our kayak lurking about beneath us. Her eventual comment was ‘I’m not happy about my hair’

Spiked by a Weaver, Stung by a Jellyfish, Shocked by an Electric Ray. Nice Relaxing family holiday in Spain.

Escape the worst UK summer in living memory and head off to the Costa del Sol. Nine days in a pair of swimming shorts. Villa with a pool. Baking hot. With all the family and a few chums. And right by the sea. Bliss.

But the sea is full of small brown jellyfish. Hopefully they don’t sting. Ouch, yes they do. And one or two whopping  Barrel jellyfish as well, two foot wide. Lazily swimming along complete with entourage of little fish.

Barrel jellyfish

Loads of jellyfish means an increased chance of encountering  jellyfish-eaters, and that’s precisely what happened while out on the kayaks with eldest son Henry. A thumping great Ocean Sunfish over a metre across and just lolling about on its side at the surface. Eyeing us with its big eyeball and intermittently squirting water out of its mouth.

BIG Ocean Sunfish

It only sprang to life when it bumped into Henry’s kayak and casually swam down into the depths. Really weird creatures.

Trolling a lure behind the kayaks seemed to be the only hope of catching fish here, as the water was crystal clear with a sea bed of mainly sand, so a lot of ground needed to be covered to ensure a fishy encounter.

I did try a bit of bottom fishing using mackerel-spiced feathers but only hooked a tiny Comber and then got bored….back to the trolling.

Brightly coloured, but miniscule, Comber

Pest fish of the holiday were Greater weavers, which I thought were designed to lurk on the bottom amd terrorise bare footed tourists with their poisonous spikes. We caught them both in shallow and deep water and using small plugs and big…some very big. It has to be a very bold fish to try to eat a lure almost bigger than itself…..

Greater Weaver, just look at those spikes

 But with spikes like that on its back it can afford to take risks. I know because one ‘got’ me while unhooking it. Not pleasant but it took my mind off the jellyfish sting .

Fish were thin on the ground as there was a lot of competition with trawlers  and the incessant drone from these ploughing around offshore only went quiet at the weekends. But just when we were about to give up we ran into a shoal of triggerfish which provided a brief bit of sport. As we reeled this one in a couple of its chums came to the surface with it.

Triggerfish

I was out at dawn every morning although it got progressively more difficult to turf out of bed as the St. Miguel took its toll and the prospect of catching a decent fish decreased, as I was covering the same ground day after day. Just weavers, a few chum mackerel, and a scad.

I set the drag as loose as I could so that I could hear the satisfactory sound of line being clicked out as a fish bites. But the fish were so small it didn’t happen. And then, just when I was starting to get despondent, my line absolutely fizzed out. Brilliant. At blooming last. But what on earth was on the end of the line, half a mile offshore?

I wound in carefully and the fish tore off again just when it became visible….typical bass behaviour. Sure enough my biggest bass ever was soon in the kayak- it was big-headed and thin-bodied so theoretically was a lot heavier. Sorry bass, you are going to end up as supper (and anyway you are probably a ‘spent fish’).

Surprise Bass

No scales, so it was down to a high tech GCSE Physics-style experiment to calculate the weight of the fish. Six and a half pounds. Could have been more.

Pete the powerlifter

Not a scrap of bass was left after the evening feast.

Burger or bass?

Next day the sea was absolute glass at dawn so I thought I would try something different and do the ‘tuna run’  (my own title…never caught one yet though) ….paddling straight out to sea for two and a half miles. I had no bites at all but was completely absorbed in watching the big Cory’s Shearwaters cruising around my kayak and zipping past my earholes.

And then the trawler about half a mile away from me got swallowed up in a wall of thick fog. AAARGH. Total panic. I wound in and paddled as fast as I could for the beach. Absolutely flat out. And my mouth went dry. The mist closed in and the coast towards Gibraltar was swallowed up. What an idiot, but who ever heard of a sea fog on the Costa del Sol? The wall of cloud followed me in but I managed to outrun it, just. A few boats were fishing close to the shore but I could have told them they wouldn’t catch anything there, but was too exhausted (and dry-mouthed) to speak. And my Spanish is a bit dodgy anyway.

A bit of competition on a foggy morning

Time to break out of the mould and try a different lure. Why not my artificial squid that I have had for about ten years and never used? It looks the business:

squiddy lure

It dived deeper than I expected and was bumping along the bottom when suddenly it went very heavy. I thought I had hooked a big blob of brown weed but hauled in the weirdest fish I have ever caught. A flabby round disc of leopardskin spots with a bit of a tail. And as I reached down to get the hook out…ZAP!  A shock like touching an electric fence. You’ve got to be kidding! but then KAPOW! another one and then a lot more until the flabby electric-pulsing swimming blob was put back in the water.

Marbled electric ray….deceptively flabby

The only ray I have ever caught and it has to be a Marbled Electric Ray. What on earth is it doing with an electric current underwater? How can that possibly work? And apparently it is nocturnal, but I caught it at midday in bright sunlight. I suspect it was having a siesta when my squiddy lure came bumping along over its head and it just couldn’t resist a smash and grab (and zap) raid.

safely back to electrocute another day

It must be tough being a James Bond wannabee in 40 degrees heat. Come over to Devon. It’s a lot cooler. And there’s a lot more fish.

Spanish action man

 

Late Season Rod-Benders

End of the day, end of the season

Having shared my kayak with what many would consider to be the fish of a lifetime, I knew I would have to drop my ambition level and be content with the fish of a lunchbreak. And in November you really can’t be fussy so I was pleased to have caught this garfish during a session on the south Cornwall coast at Fowey this morning, even though it was pitifully small:

Fowey Garfish

 And I ‘m not sure how far I dragged this poor little bass along behind my kayak while trolling a rubber sandeel as it pulled no line out of the reel at all. Fortunately it was none the worse for wear after its fresh air foray, and tried to slash me with its gill covers.

Feisty little bass

 As always there were plenty of shags (and a few cormorants) looking reptilian on every headland, and this little gang seemed to be sporting their oily green breeding plumage already….surely not.

A stagger of shags

Actually come to think of it the adults are always that colour.

It was such a warm and sunny Guy Fawkes day that Mr. Fox was sunning himself on a grassy headland and had no idea of my passing.

Foxy being rather more dozing than cunning

 I think I have mentioned before that I have invested in a couple of Penn spinning  reels that were moderately (but still under £50) expensive, as I am getting fed up with ultra budget reels that seize up  with the slightest wiff of salty air, and make a scrunchy rusty noise when a decent fish pulls line off the reel. Or else they just jam up completely and the rod leaps about in its holder for a few seconds before the line breaks.

One is a Penn Pursuit, and the other is a Penn Sargus. Or strictly speaking ‘was’ because the Sargus is currently sitting on the bottom of the Bristol channel following the capsize incident while I was reeling in a tope off Lynmouth. Anyway, I am very pleased with the Pursuit as it still reels sweetly and fish pull line off the reel with an excellent ringing metallic buzz…very satisfactory.

Penn Pursuit......highly recommended

During October I was fortunate enough to hook several decent fish which made the Pursuit sing and give the bendiness of my rod a bit of a workout.

I spent several hours drifting about off Dizzard point with a mackerel fillet on a hefty hook fished close to the bottom. Boredom would have consumed me had it not been for little groups of shearwaters zipping past. Then my reel buzzed and up came the heavy and surprisingly inactive dead weight of an 8lb cod.

8lb cod

And this was followed a few days later by a hat-trick of 3lb pollack, 3lb codling and 4lb ling. Unlike most of my catches, these were kept for supper and the fish tasting trial gave the cod the max points for tastiness, with the ling a close second. 

Pollack, ling, codling

 It was back to Spain for a few days over half-term and the casual observer might have been forgiven for thinking that the rain in Spain falls mainly on the Costa del Sol. I wasn’t hopeful of catching anything big here, as the sea resounds to the throb of trawlers (when the wind isn’t howling) the whole time. And the fishermen on the shore use tiny hooks to catch unbelievably tiny fish. When they saw me coming in with a mackerel fillet on a huge hook they sniggered and made comments to the effect that I was wasting my effort big time. Yes my Spanish is creaky,  if not non-existent,  and in common with many English abroad I just speak loudly and increasingly irritatedly (why can’t they understand?).

But I persisted in my efforts to hook a Spanish whopper and was rewarded in the most unexpected manner. I spent several hours trolling big expensive lures around, miles offshore, in the vain hope of catching a tuna. Not a dicky bird. One day I was forced to keep close to the beach by an offshore wind and was trolling a mini jointed plug when the line from my Pursuit zinged out when I was only a stones throw from land. Surely I had snagged the bottom, but no some beast was tugging away and I spent a good ten minutes getting it to the side of the kayak…..this was one of the most spirited fights I have had.OK I had the drag set pretty lightly coz  no way was this one getting away. I was expecting bass but a long thin fin at the surface made me think….it can’t be….tuna!

Little plug, big fish

 It’s gill covers looked finger-friendly (unlike bass) and I hauled it on board.Quite a fish…well, six pounds in fact as I found out later.

Exotic mediterranean fish.......is it a tuna?

 There’s no tank well in my Disco so it had to share the footwell with my bare feet for the paddle back. Not pleasant for my feet but probably quite a lot more unpleasant for the fish.

Sorry but I’m a bloke so I had to have the ‘trophy’ photo:

Hold it away from your body....it looks bigger

I marched back to the villa and announced we were having tuna for tea but when the fillets were cut it didn’t look awfully like tuna but that’s because it usually comes in a tin ( I explained). And it tastes like mackerel that has been left on the shelf for a week. Not so easy to explain….and I agree….but not a WEEK.

After that big excitement normal service was resumed and it was back to catching little fish, even though they might have a big sting:

Weever on deep diving plug

The Chub mackerel which I gave to the fishermen (who seemed to be impressed with its large size) was sneakily nibbled by a marauding Turnstone.

Might I suggest 'Peckfish' rather than 'Turnstone'

The locals also said we had no chance of seeing any dolphins…… 

It wasn’t until we got back to blighty that , after ages trawling through fish photos on the internet, I found out that the big Spanish fish was in fact not a tuna….it was a rather drably named ‘leerfish’. Gloom.

And, to finish with,  possibly my last rodbender of the season, an 8lb pollack caught on orange hokkais near Land’s End.

Frenzy for Sharks

The turmoil of activity generated by the media about my shark encounter in a kayak would not have been matched by a haunch of beef thrown to a pack of Great Whites.

Within minutes of my photos appearing on the front page of the Western Morning News my phone, with its unbelievably annoying ringtone, didn’t stop being annoying all day. Must change the tune (get my twelve year old daughter to change the tune).

People from press agencies, Radio Cornwall, BBC Spotlight, ITV, Radio 5 Live and some radio station from Canada called. Bit suspicious about this last one as there wasn’t a two second gap between talking but I’ve been told things have moved on since last time I did a Transatlantic.

Yes,yes,yes,yes,yes was my reply to whether I would do an interview or supply photos. I don’t have a problem with sharing my enthusiasm for my thing (and it’s got to be better than Raol Moat). Am I a yes person?. Probably, yes. Oops there I go again. I said yes all day, until that is when I was asked by the presenter on ITV Westcountry Live whether THAT was the moment the shark dragged me half a mile out to sea. Even though this was the event that had stimulated the interest of over 260 press reports across the globe from Ireland to Fiji and the Washington Post to the Sydney Morning Herald, I inexplicably replied ‘No’.

They rapidly lost interest in me and put on something about Raol Moat.

Headline in the 'Sun'

 After the various broadcasts, messages arrived from friends I hadn’t seen for ages…..

‘a good face for radio’ ….unoriginal. you can do better than that, Graham

‘ I must say I wouldn’t have recognised you’…. actually you’re the odd one out, Mike, with a full head of hair at 52.

‘you looked more like the shark than the shark’….thanks Jeremy. But at least it only refers to the size of my conk (hopefully).

of course the comparison to jaws had to be made...this was the Daily Mail

The highpoint of the evening came, however, when the photos appeared on ‘the One Show’ and drew a comment from Dannii Minogue. As far as my daughters were concerned, it doesn’t get better than that. But for me it would have been a lot better if one of my own idols, Sir David Attenborough (requires no explanation) or Captain Sensible (requires quite a lot of explanation) ,had acknowledged my battle with my gnashing and toothy adversary.

Time to get back to hands-on kayak fishing. My old chum Cush was down for the weekend and of course bravado talk resulted in a plan to catch more Tope. However a very enjoyable wedding party followed by a Rocky Horror fancy dress bash (yep….two parties in one night!), resulted in a slothful and nauseous start on Sunday.

Lynmouth was our destination. We tied our kayaks together and sat around half a mile offshore waiting for a bite. Conversation fizzled out, I caught a couple of dogfish and Cush politely questioned how long I was planning to stay. You mean you want to go home now, Cush.

Mini shark...a dogfish

So we started to pack up and I started to reel in my mackerel bait and, totally and utterly unbelievably,  it happened again. My rod bounced twice and a tope tore off with my line. At exactly the same time Cush somehow tipped his kayak over and ended up wallowing about amongst a raft of flotsam. I was concentrating on holding the shark but was pleased to see our Snickers bars still floating. Oh and Cush, in his drysuit, bobbed like a cork.Phew.

I gallantly volunteered to come and help Cush once I had landed the fish, and started to be dragged away, but it was smaller than the last two (about 35lbs) and I soon had it beside the kayak.

Tope on

Cush heroically reappeared having clambered back onto the kayak. Not an easy feat (mind you its even more difficult to fall out in the first place).

He grabbed a couple of ‘trophy’ photos.

Upon arrival back at Lynmouth I was surprised to be hailed by a gang of lairy beer-swillers outside a pub as we wheeled the kayaks past on their trolleys. They guffawed something about tope and the telly and then dissolved into laughter which was louder and lasted a lot longer than it really should have done. I felt it was a good thing I didn’t catch all of their alcoholic comments. Does Dannii have this problem?

p.s. I would like to put in a claim for the first shark story to go FROM England TO Australia (and not the other way round)

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.

Sliver Delivers

I have only ever bought one Rapala Sliver, and that was about ten years ago. I took it trolling in Dorset and lost it to the bottom after about five minutes. I challenge anyone not to grind their teeth and mutter unmutterables in that situation when you have just forked out in excess of a tenner for a little bit of floating wood. Well OK, it actually sinks very slowly  but you know what I mean, and don’t be picky.

However I HAVE noticed that around the southwest the closer a lure looks like a sandeel the more joy you will have. And experience of Porthcurno suggests that the very large number of launce (big sandeels) which you always catch when using mackerel feathers is probably what keeps the large numbers of birds, fish and mammals excited. And a Rapala Sliver is nice and thin and looks like a Launce. So I shelled out another tenner (or a bit more,actually) and off I went.

Before I tell you how I got on I must brag a bit about my recent Gurnard hat-trick. Well…nearly. All three species in three days anyway. I do like Gurnard as they are very un-Britishly brightly coloured (remember I have a birdwatching background ) and make a ridiculous grunt when you catch them. First was a Red at Porthcurno:

Red Gurnard

 Three days later I caught a Grey and a Tub on my local patch near Bude. I used to write under the pen-name ‘The Grey Gurn-nerd’ but nobody seemed to twig what it meant and in fact not a lot of people read what I wrote anyway. I thought it was excellent.

Grey gurnard
Tub Gurnard

 I was joined by my chum Pokey who always looks like a cool dude and is in total command of the situation (at least when he is in a kayak).

Pokey poses

 After that major digression let’s get back to the Sliver which I am making a big thing of.Here it is, having survived being dragged around the sea for three or four hours:

 Not having caught a single bass all season ( yes, alright I’ll concede to a degree of incompetence but I also havn’t really tried that hard yet……well , incompetence then) I wasn’t expecting much but within a couple of minutes of setting off from Porthgwarra my line buzzed out and I groaned as I thought I had lost more hard earned cash to the depths. But hang on, there was a BIG lump repeatedly,slowly and powerfully pulling on the line. Major panic! I reeled in slowly and in typical bass fashion the line went light as the brakes came off and I was getting ready for the big plunge when it got near the kayak. There it was, and OH NO there goes the fish. Never saw it so clearly it was a record breaker.

 
A minute or two later I had a 3 pounder on board:

Bass (at last)

 And then another right in front of the Minack theatre.

Crossing the green water of sandy Porthcurno bay I wasn’t expecting a bite but a pathetic tugging on the line produced a launce barely bigger than the Sliver itself. Surely it wasn’t serously thinking it could eat a fish that size. Amorous intent would be more a more feasible explanation.

Launce vs Sliver

 Porthcurno usually resounds to the occasional scream of excitement from the beach , or applause from the Minack audience, but today it was a bit more cacophonous as the Royal Navy were fine-honing their rescue skills on Logan rock.

Search and Rescue Sea King over Logan Rock

 So I’ve still got my Sliver and looking forward to it’s next outing. I notice it really makes the rod end shake as its jointed body ‘swims’ through the water…more so than any other lure I have used. This can only be an advantage because more movement surely means greater attractive power to the hungry predator.