Norfolk Broads

Kayaking has been a bit of a struggle recently. Is it because I know every inch of every river , creek and coast for many miles around because I have paddled them so often, and a bit of boredom is setting in? Hopefully not. Or is it that the March weather has been pretty rubbish and I’m a bit fed up of being cold.I’mlooking forward to casting off my kayaking gloves and balaclava, but while the northwest wind (the direction I like least of all because it seems to suck out your spirit as well as your therms) blows that ain’t gonna happen. I’ve been creeping about in the shelter of deep creeks. Some quite big sea urchins exposed by the huge spring tide a couple of weeks ago:

P1070166I love to paddle along in complete silence and become part of the wildlife. That is my intention anyway. Spectacular failure is the usual result but increasingly the creatures  I like to see seem to tolerate my close presence.  The deer don’t even bother to get up.

P1070499I felt I needed to stretch my horizons a bit so decided to explore some new kayaking territory. The Norfolk Broads, never been there before. Easy paddling and exciting wildlife.

TROUT

But first I dusted off my fishing rod and rusting reel for a quick blast with a Rapala plug on my local freshwater patch.Nothing else was possible in a kayak on that day as the northwesterly was gusting at 60 mph. Two small trout and then a mighty beast that when it leapt out of the water after initially being hooked nearly caused my neck to dislocate. The severe gale force offshore wind meant that I had to keep paddling frantically to avoid being blown where I really didn’t want to go so I ‘cheated ‘ and paddled to the shore, got out of the kayak, and started to reel in the fish in a conventional style, almost like a real fisherman. The trout put up a suitable fight on my pathetic little boat rod , and then very nearly punished my amateurish techniqe by throwing off the hook as it was in shallow water. Near disaster. Fortunately I managed to grab it before it worked out that it was free to go.

By far and away my biggest brown trout ever….7lbs.

Monster Trout
Monster Trout

BROADS

So I headed off to the Norfolk  Broads. No fishing rod. Map and camera, and sleeping bag in the back of the car. And my jetboil of course. Otter encounters high on the wish list, with Marsh Harriers and booming Bitterns right up there too. I have never heard a Bittern boom. I have now heard a Corncrake crake but I have never heard a Bittern boom.

HICKLING

My first destination for an afternoon paddle was Hickling broad. Basically a windswept lake surrounded by rushes. No scenery as such but at least there was a bit of sun to give a bit of colour and make the water look vaguely blue. And there was the brown silhouette of a female Marsh Harrier hawking over the sedge. And another and another.P1070363

I worked my way down the east side of the broad and weaved in and out of a few narrow creeks, and then took a turn up the narrow canal to Horsey Mere. A grating primeval call from above announced the presence of  a pair of Common Cranes. Never seen these before from my kayak.P1070252

I toured round the rather cold and featureless Horsey Mere and then continued  down Heigham Sound to its confluence with the River Thurne.

Then back up the west side of the Broad. What is that weird ‘hoom’ing noise that sounds like a woodwind instrument doing a sound check (not that I would really know what that sounds like)?Good grief, it must be a Bittern booming. Tremendous.

BARTON BROAD

After a dodgy night’s sleep on my inadequately thick self-inflating airbed in the back of my car, and being scowled at in the evening by a few locals who thought I shouldn’t be parked there, I emerged into the wind , and rain, and cold in the murk of dawn to paddle upstrem to Honing lock. Idiotically early of course to maximise chance of an otter encounter and minimise chance if a disgruntled local encounter. Or maybe the reason I was on the water just as it was getting light was because I had been asleep since 8pm. Not a lot to do in the back of your car in March, especially if your book is a bit of a yawn.

It was appallingly cold. 3 degrees, heavy rain and wind.My fingers ached beneath my gloves.At least the River Ant was very scenic and very wooded and was new paddling territory, and even had the odd windmill.P1070256

The moored river boats thickened up on the approach to Wayford bridge. Upstream of Wayford the River Ant twists and turns through woodland more akin to a mangrove swamp. A few small deer crept about in the undergrowth, difficult to see. Muntjac I would guess, or were they Chinese water deer? It was the sort of place you might expect to see a Sasquatch.

I continued on to the South Walsham canal as the river Ant fizzled out and ended up doing more punting than paddling through heavily weeded sections of marsh. At last I could go no further, wuth Honing Lock in sight. Actually it was the hissing swan that made me about turn.

I stopped for breakfast at the only non sludgy ‘beach’ I had been past. Even during the very short amount of time it took to down five Weetabix I became chilled to my very inner core (somewhere between my spleen and last night’s supper).

So I leapt beack onto my layak and paddled the five miles back to the car at Barton Turf absolutely flat out, in an effort to stave off hypothermia. It didn’t really work so I had to warm up in my sllepping bag for a couple of hours. This was quite fortunate because when the  boatyard-type people arrived to scowl at my kayak they couldn’t see me prostrate in my fugged up car.

After vaguely warming up I paddled south down Barton Broad for a twelve mile return trip to the confluence with the river Bure. And would you believe it, there was a big dog otter working its way along the shoreline, stopping at every protruding rock and branch to ‘mark’ his territory. I sneaked along behind him following his trail of bubbles as he cut across the neck of a bay and then disappeared into some reeds. However I knew where he had got to when a swan suddenly hissed its disapproval as the otter popped up.

I left him to get on with his business and half a mile further on was puzzled by a brown shape that momentarily appeared above the rushes, as though jumping up. As I watched a group of three otters, I would guess a mother and two youngsters, took to the water and started to lark about as they worked there way along the shore. They stared and snuffled at me when I got too close, then carried on when they decided I didn’t pose a threat. I couldn’t quite believe that the brown shape I saw above the top of the reeds must have been an otter leaping three foot into the air.P1070288

P1070294Great viewing, and in the middle of the afternoon! The early start to see otters was apparently unnecessary.

As I paddled on down the Ant after the exit of Barton Broad I watched several Marsh Harriers doing a strange ‘flappy’ display flight with accompanying mewing call at an unfeasibly high altitude above the marshes.And astonishingly the sun came out and it became vaguely warm.P1070312

Excellent paddle past several atmospheric windmills, nice and easy with the wind behind me. Only one probem. I had to paddle back.

RIVER BURE.

I thought I should find a different carpark to spend the night so drove round to South Walsham Broad, poised for an assault on the River Bure and its many associated broads.

Another early start ( surprise, surprise). But not as surprised as a heron which was attempting to down a carp seemingly far too wide to fit down its neck. Lucky for the carp I frightened the heron away. The flat and field-flanked Bure became more interesting and woody as I paddled upstream.More Marsh Harriers flopping and floating about.

P1070352The scenery took on a very Thames sort of feel through Horning, complete with fancy Hotel and a paddle-driven riverboat. At last it promised to be a decent day and the rising sun felt immediately generated a bit of warmth. I was a bit disappointed several of the broads marked on the map were fenced off so I stayed on the river and eventually weaved my way up at Wroxham which was a busy sort of place with pleasure boats starting to power up and lots of swan feeding going on in the park.P1070339

I raced a flotilla of small day boats containing a scout group back to the very pleasant and scenic Salhouse broad where I stopped for lunch on a surprise sandy beach…the only one in the area,

Great-crested grebes did their head-shaking display in virtually every backwater and side creek, a sure sign of Spring.P1070321

Back at South Walsham I was feeling a bit jaded after 25 miles of paddling.And in need of a shower. The forecast for the next day was pretty dismal so I pulled the plug and headed for home.P1070298

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Winter

I am very glad I wasn’t born 20 years earlier.From a kayaking perspective anyway.

No decent sit-on-top kayaks and no decent dry suits twenty years ago. So winter paddling would be a struggle. When I bought my first OK Prowler ten years ago I did some biggish winter trips in my steamer wetsuit and ended up semi-hypothermic at the end. The advent of comfortable drysuits beneath which you can wear a nice thick onesy and be cosy and snug is a necessity to enjoyment and to encourage you to go back for more. You can be completely immune to whatever the elements can sling at you.

And from a wildlife perspective too. It wasn’t very many decades ago that two of the countries most impressive natural predators were having a tough time. Peregrine numbers nationally crashed to less than a hundred pairs (due to DDT) and otters all but disappeared . Due to poor river quality, pesticides and…would you believe?….otter hunting wasn’t banned until 1978.

Since my Scotland expedition I have developed a bit of a ‘thing’ about otters. Although the ‘thing’ was probably spawned during my first wild otter encounter in the Outer Hebrides in 1984.

So, living less than ten miles away from the literary home of one of the most famous of British otters, Tarka, I thought it would be a good winter challenge to venture out onto the river Torridge to try to see any of his descendants.

Incidentally, Tarka is probably upstaged by Gavin Maxwell’s otter in his book ‘Ring of Bright Water’. Funnily enough I camped directly outside his house on the beautiful Sandaig islands on the west coast of Scotland last summer, and ironically it was about the only day for a whole month I DIDN’T see any otters. Probably because there were hordes of Gavin Maxwell fans on a sort of pilgrimage. Otters don’t like disturbance.

Otters live in the wilds. If you see an otter you are in a wild place.OK  occasionally nowadays they are seen in the middle of a town but generally they are in a jaw-droppingly fantastic location.

The next good thing is that you generally have to make a bit of an effort to see them and are forced to get out of your comfort zone. Like getting up appallingly early in the morning. Of the 60 or so otters I saw around the coast of Scotland last year, all but 2 or 3 were before 8 in the morning. The only time they seem to stay out later is if it is grey and dark and pouring with rain, when you would prefer to still be in bed even more.

Finally you have got to be dead quiet if you want to stand a good chance of an otter encounter. Total stealth the whole time. Kayaking of course is brilliant for this as you can progress in more or less total silence.

Otter Heaven
Otter Heaven

Only one big drawback with otter watching given the current global state of suspicion and wariness of anyone out of the ordinary. If you are spotted by some average passers-by while you are sitting in your kayak in the middle of a bush close to the bank of the River Torridge on a cold and windy day with passing snow flurries at the end of January just as it is getting dark holding a camera to your eye, they are going to start to wonder what the hell you are doing.Actually to be honest they would probably have thought this even before the current global state of heightened awareness to strange goings-on. It’s just got worse now.

And if you try to explain that you are watching a pair of otters which are fishing directly underneath the bridge upon which the observers are standing, but have to use hand signals to mimic the otters ears because you are too far away to be heard, and anyway don’t want to raise your voice because it would frighten the otters, you are rapidly heading towards serious trouble.

Torrington otter pair
Torrington otter pair

And if they give you the benefit of the doubt and look over the bridge into the water, but see nothing because they are looking over the WRONG SIDE of the bridge (like a couple of Bozos), you really have got a problem. As far as they are concerned nobody wired up correctly or without suspicious intent would be in such a location in such conditions, doing such a weird thing.Normal people mope around in doors fiddling with computers and watching Jeremy Kyle.

Time for me to move on..fast, when I saw them raising their phones to their ears. The otters slunk off into a riverside bush and barked a warning at me with their typical explosive snuffling sound as I paddled past.P1060964

My next encounter was a lot better because I had no interference from scrutinising conspiracy-theorists, and I spent a good ten minutes watching a family group of otters doing what they do without disturbance in the most dramatic ancient natural woodland of the Torridge river. Lots of squeaking ‘chip’ calls from a couple of youngsters to a parent as they worked their way along the river bank, fishing and then scampering up between the tree roots before returning to the water.

Otters can be very vocal. Several pairs (presumably adults) I have seen this winter have been making really quite loud whistling squeaks, and one which was munching through a fair-sized sea trout (or salmon) was making a barking squeal which carried for half a mile. Telling other family members to come and join in the feast, or other otters to clear off, I suppose.

Otter with large fishy meal
Otter with large fishy meal

One pair I watched in the extreme remoteness of Loch Maddy in North Uist during the summer made such a terrifyingly loud screech that my body lurched into panic mode. It was just so sudden and unexpected in such a silent and deserted place.

So, more otter encounters than I could ever have hoped for this winter. Only a single Mink hunting along the bank. they are a bit creepy because they look at you with beady little black eyes which are full of bad intent. And they don’t scamper off when you get close.Evil personified.

Swimming  Mink
Swimming Mink

Apart from the otters on the rivers I have ventured out onto the variety of sheltered estuaries, creeks and rias that penetrate far inland around the south -west. As usual the open sea in winter is essentially no-go for kayaking. Too windy and even if it is still ,there is generally a thunderous swell.

The Taw estuary is open and exposed and really not that interesting scenically but is fantastic for wintering birds. Although not so good for wintering ducks and geese are the characters that sit on the shore with shotguns and blast them out of the sky. I am rather surprised that wildfowling is still legal.

Taw Dawn
Taw Dawn
Ducks at Dawn on Taw
Ducks at Dawn on Taw
Spoonbills on the Taw
Spoonbills on the Taw
River Taw executioner
River Taw executioner

The Tamar is very scenic,  very twisting, and very sheltered. Especially the upper reaches.

The Upper Tidal Tamar
The Upper Tidal Tamar

Lots of history and National Trust-type places in the middle bit.

Calstock Viaduct
Calstock Viaduct
Cotehele Quay
Cotehele Quay

Always a flock of Avocets during the winter as you get towards the vast muddy expanses of the lower reaches.

Avocets on the Tamar
Avocets on the Tamar

And if you like a bit of naval hardware, Devonport dockyard does not disappoint. If you happen to be innocently paddling down the (very wide) river as the Flagship of the Royal Navy, HMS Bulwark, is being guided out into Plymouth Sound by an escort of tugs, you can be expected to be advised to keep out of the way by at least three police launches. Perhaps the black balaclava I was wearing didn’t help.

HMS Bulwark
HMS Bulwark

And the good old Fowey river. Maybe the most beautiful of them all.  A bit of action with all the china clay activity and the unfeasibly large ships which have somehow squeezed their way up the river round all the corners. Some rather nice shiny new ones as well.

Gleaming china clay ship at Fowey
Gleaming china clay ship at Fowey

This industry of the lower river contrasts very dramatically with the totally natural scene only a mile or two further upstream. Steep banks cloaked in natural deciduous woodland, with the side creek up to Lerryn maybe best of all. Home of kingfishers, egrets and echoing to the piping call of Greenshank. Even a pair of peregrines calling over the top of the wood. Wasn’t expecting to see a crocodile as I ventured right up the river on a high tide, however!

..er...I hope that's made of plastic
..er…I hope that’s made of plastic

Very occasionally I feel that my legs need a bit of exercise to ensure that my skin tight jeans don’t resemble a pair of baggy pantaloons. So it’s on with the wetsuit and down to the sea for a bit of storm-wave chasing with brother and daughter. Whaahaay.P1010079_01

Twelve Thousand Miles

10 years of sit-on-top paddling. 12,000 miles paddled.Giant container ship, Fal River

10,000 miles in SW England.

Derrick, Isles of Scilly
Derrick, Isles of Scilly

1200 miles in Scotland.

On the Spey under the gaze of the Cairngorms
On the Spey under the gaze of the Cairngorms

 

30 miles around the Somerset levels.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

33 species of fish caught

Hooked into a big'un
Hooked into a big’un

383 Sea Bass

Bass
Bass

A load of Pollack

Pollack hat trick
Pollack hat trick

7 Tope

50lb Tope
50lb Tope

1 Leatherback turtle

Leatherback turtle....diving!
Leatherback turtle….diving!

9 schools of Bottlenose DolphinsP1080904

8 schools of Common DolphinsP1050105

13 basking sharks

Basking shark
Basking shark

17 sunfish

Sunfish
Sunfish

1 Little Auk

Little Auk
Little Auk

1 Swimming Badger (in the sea)

Swimming Badger
Swimming Badger

1 Swimming Roe Deer (in the sea)

Roe deer
Roe deer

1 Swimming Toad (in the sea)

toad in the sea
toad in the sea

1 TriceratopsIMG_6046IMG_6048

4 Pine Martens

Pine Marten
Pine Marten

3 Twaite’s Shad

Twaite's Shad
Twaite’s Shad

17 days with Puffins

Puffin Pair
Puffin Pair

2 Grey Phalaropes

Grey Phalarope
Grey Phalarope

1 congerP1020827

89 otters

Otter
Otter

11 Camping trips

Camping on Mull
Camping on Mull

7 Rivers beginning with ‘T’:  Thames, Tweed, Tay, Tamar, Torridge, Tone, Taw.

River Tweed
River Tweed

1 Paddle Steamer

Waverley at Exmoor
Waverley at Exmoor

2 Class 66 Diesels

Class 66 at Fowey
Class 66 at Fowey

5 Red Arrows through eye of the rainbow

Red Arrows, Fowey
Red Arrows, Fowey

 

Autumn Variety

P1060557

 

Back before the wind picked up a couple of weeks ago I had another attempt at tussling with sharks. It was a complete failure but I did catch a couple of unexpected non-fishy sea creatures.

Firstly this squid which aimed a water jet directly at me as it broke the surface. Surely just coincidence…they cannot be that clever. But maybe they are, and maybe that is why they give me the creeps. Fortunately I didn’t have to get it onboard to de-hook, it just let go of the mackerel bait.P1060342P1060346

And much to my astonishment, a few minutes later I hauled up my first ever kayak-caught cuttlefish. It shrouded itself in a cloud of bright red ink as it appeared at the surface, then changed its body colour from crimson to a sort of green. Remarkable. Not quite as creepy as a squid, but pretty weird all the same.

Cuttlefish
Cuttlefish

The sea has subsequently become a bit more lively which makes sitting about bottom fishing less appealing so it’s back to trolling lures. And another classic piece of bass action.

I was weaving in and out of all the little coves just round the corner from Mevagissey (good shelter from west wind) trolling a rubber sand eel behind. I paddled over a large kelp-covered rock only a few inches beneath the surface which I was certain would snag the lure. So I paddled flat out in order to make the lure float as close as possible to the surface as it was whipped along behind at a speed of about 6mph. Sure enough the rod bent over and line reeled out as the lure went over the rock, but to my disbelief it was because there was a 3lb bass on the end, not a kelp-covered boulder. Typical bass ambush tactics.

Mevagissey Bass
Mevagissey Bass

This fish was safely returned to the water.

On the paddle back to my launch point at Porthpean I stumbled across a group of four Great-Northern Divers, my first of the autumn. Probably a family group as they kept calling to each other, and probably just arrived in from somewhere like Iceland. That’s pretty remarkable as well. No GPS.P1060520

Porthpean
Porthpean

My next autumnal extraordinary sea creature encounter was under the gaze of Exmoor in North Devon (good shelter from a southerly wind). A really impressive location boasting the highest sea cliffs in mainland Britain.

Exmoor cliffs
Exmoor cliffs

So a suitable spot to meet one of the biggest sunfish I have ever seen. As usual I first saw its dorsal fin ‘corkscrewing’ at the surface. I paddled over gently for a bit of a snoop expecting the fish to dive, but instead it just blattered on and brushed against the bottom of my kayak. So I arced round for another encounter and this time the dustbin lid-shaped fish seemed to deliberately lift its head out of the water so that it could eyeball me more clearly.

Was it my imagination or did it momentarily freeze as our eyes engaged? We didn’t connect however as the next second it had crash-dived and was gone for good.(or maybe we did connect)

 

Exmoor and sunfish
Exmoor and sunfish
Sunfish eyeballing
Sunfish eyeballing

And so it is back to the shelter of the estuaries as the weather deteriorates further. The River Tamar between Saltash and Devonport provides interest if you like your shoreline to be made of metal. P1060537P1060550

I probably prefer the Torridge estuary which provides access a long way upriver towards Torrington on a big Spring tide and it’s not so cluttered up with hardware. And some nice autumnal scenes on a chilly October morning.P1060638_01

P1060551_01

And to reward me for my effort of turfing out of bed when the rest if the world was asleep(apart from the chap in the scull), I had a great prolonged view of an otter hunting in the upper tidal reaches. A very big otter, bigger than any I had seen in Scotland. It spent much of its time ‘porpoising’ in the rapids, a good way of taking a breath without being swept downstream, I suppose.

Big otter
Big otter
more typical view of an otter....just as it dives
more typical view of an otter….just as it dives

At one stage it sped off underwater into the heart of a dense riverside bush (I could see its trail of bubbles) and then started to call with an urgent  ‘chipping’ sound, before returning to fishing.

 

 

Bedruthan Bass

sunny Newquay
sunny Newquay

A fairly steady offshore wind on the North Cornish coast made me change my plans from a loafing about bottom fishing sort of a day, into a touring close in to the shore doing a bit of sightseeing as well as fishing sort of a day.

I’m going through a phase of stripping everything back to the basics to keep things as simple as possible. Even more so than usual. So I took only one fishing rod with a rubber sandeel on the end of the line. That was it.

Trolling a sandeel is a great way to catch bass. Plugs are also good but they do tend to get snagged on weeds and rocks. A trolled sandeel runs along only an inch or so below the surface as you paddle along, enabling you to get really close in amongst the rocks , which of course is where the bass are hunting as the tide comes in.

I paddled south from Treyarnon Bay.Lovely spot, but I won’t be going there again. The car park meter doesn’t start issuing tickets till eight o’clock. I arrived at seven thirty and had to wait around for half-an-hour. Pretty annoying.

I’ve only paddled this stretch once before. It’s very absorbing, with loads of rocky islets to dodge between and the great treasure of Bedruthan steps waiting to be investigated round Park Head.

I caught my first bass just before Bedruthan. A two pounder.Put back. Then another similar size in Watergate Bay. Watergate Bay was already buzzing with surfers. And also the buzzing noise of a pair of Choughs.

Watergate Bay
Watergate Bay

I paddled on down to Newquay and was pleasantly surprised that most of the town is not visible from close in to the shore as it is largely on top of a cliff. In fact it was looking at it’s best on such a warm and sunny September day so I thought I would join in with the holiday atmosphere and went to hunt for an ice cream at Town Beach. Toffee fudge flavour. Yum.

Newquay
Newquay

And so the ten mile paddle back to Treyarnon. The tide was high so I would be able to paddle around the rocky islands at Bedruthan steps and hopefully catch a bigger bass. Bingo. My line sung out as I was going round the back of the first island. A big slow tugging fish on the end…my biggest bass for several years.

I was careful not to lose it and was expecting its final dash for freedom which always occurs when you lock eyeballs with it as it approaches the kayak. I think if I was being dragged up from the depths and saw me peering over the edge of a kayak I too would make a desperate escape plunge.

Bedruthan Bass
Bedruthan Bass

It was on my lap, a fish of about four pounds. I sprinted ashore to a sandy beach for a photo and then suddenly decided not to take it home for tea and to let it go. I held it in the water and it swam off happily. Very happily, I would guess.

Only one more fish after that, a garfish. I never cease to be amazed by their unusual design.

Garfish
Garfish

I have done a couple of other non-fishing kayak trips recently, but both with five-star wildlife encounters.

The first was going for an early morning blast up the Torridge estuary to ‘clear out the cobwebs’. I approached a roe deer grazing near the shore. It had two escape options: either slink off into the dense oakwood about three feet to its left, where it could instantly get lost and not be found for a hundred years, or it could hurl itself into the tidal estuary and swim fifty yards through the brackish water to the other side ,only a few feet in front of my kayak.

Inexplicably it chose the second option.

It shook off the water like a dog on the far bank, looked back at me briefly, and sauntered off.P1060186

P1060230_01

swimming roe deer
swimming roe deer

The second encounter was on the south coast in Gerrans Bay near Dodman point. I deliberately swung offshore a bit in the hope of seeing an offshore-type creature. A flurry of fins in front of me heralded the approach of half a dozen common dolphins.P1060423

Common Dolphins
Common Dolphins

As usual they weren’t particular nosy or sociable. But they did keep stopping to hunt and I got pretty close. My first common dolphins of the year.Fantastic.

Vault Beach
Vault Beach

 

Two Tintagel Tope

First big fishing day of the year! Perfect weather….blue skies, light wind, warm enough to paddle in a vest. It was destined to be a great day.

Boscastle
Boscastle

The venue had to be Boscastle and Tintagel. It’s not very often you can venture out onto this bit of the North Cornwall coast and lounge about on your kayak as if you were in the Mediterranean.

My plan was to hitch a ride on the big Spring tides and stock up on a load of mackerel as bait as I drifted with the ebb tide down past Tintagel, then get all geared up for a bit of shark fishing as I drifted all the way back again on the flood tide.

I always think it’s a good move to clock up a few miles when out for a day’s fishing, as if you don’t catch anything at least you’ve seen a bit of coast and done a bit of paddling. Although today was mainly drifting.

Boscastle coast
Boscastle coast

My plan failed straightaway. After two hours of trolling a set of feathers for five miles I had only caught two small pollack. Maybe I was a bit fishing rusty. I continued on south to take a swing round Gull rock off Trebarwith Strand.

Gull rock
Gull rock

Maybe conditions were TOO benign. More or less calm and gin clear water. But at last a fish which shook the rod tip in a maniacal manner.It was a mackerel. No hang on, it’s not, it’s something weird.

My first Bonito in the UK. (it IS actually a type of mackerel, incidentally)

Bonito mackerel
Bonito mackerel

I turned back up the coast close to the big cliffs and at last started to haul in a selection of mackerel that would surely make the average shark salivate.

Tintagel island
Tintagel island

I stopped for lunch (two peanut butter sandwiches followed by a big cup of tea from the Jetboil) on a tiny beach exposed by the low tide in the armpit of Tintagel island. A great crocodile of tourists wound their way up the path to the top of the island, no doubt muttering about Arthur and Merlin. Don’t suppose any knights of the round table went fishing for sharks in a kayak.P1060316

I was so excited I couldn’t wait for the tide to turn. I paddled directly offshore from Tintagel island for about a mile. A sunfish was wallowing at the surface doing what sunfish do best i.e. loafing about and looking half dead. This was quite a big one….about a metre across.P1060320

Ocean sunfish
Ocean sunfish

This was it. I ledgered a mackerel on the end of a wire trace down to the bottom on one rod, and then attached a float to another and let it drift away just beneath the surface. This is the technique to catch a Blue Shark. Don’t think anyone’s ever caught one of these from a kayak before in UK. They’re not supposed to come close to land but I don’t see why not. It’s got to be worth a try.

Normally I wouldn’t dream of sitting about on the sea in such a hostile place. It is hardly ever without swell or wind chop. But today was flat AND I was perched on my superstable Tarpon 160 supertanker. Totally and utterly safe. And surprisingly fast. But horrifically heavy.

So I waited. Not for long. My eyes popped out on stalks when I was absent-mindedly watching the float and it dipped below the water. And the rod bent right over. Good grief. It’s got to be a Blue. The next five minutes were a blurr as my brain blew several fuses. A very big tuggy beast was on the end of the line. Then suddenly it wasn’t. The blooming hook had pulled out of the crimp.I hope the spirit of Sir Lancelot didn’t hear my expletive.Blooming heck (that wasn’t it, by the way).

I rigged up another trace and waited another 10 mins. This time the rod with the line at the bottom exploded into action and I battled with another hefty beast, which also got off before I eyeballed it. More expletives, more blown fuses.Perhaps I should upgrade to five amp or even a short section of coat-hanger(like we used to use at school to fix a dodgy plug).

A third bite at last produced a fish from the depths and I peered over the edge to see a pretty good sized Tope on the way up. I didn’t put up that much of a fight for a 40lb fish, until I got it onboard and it had a new lease of life.

Tope number one
Tope number one

Hook out. Photo taken. Fish put back safely.

And then another Tope, this one slightly bigger than the last, I would guess 50lbs.

Tope number two
Tope number two

And that was it. All the action in about 90 mins just after low tide.

I sat and watched the coast roll past for the next four hours until I was just about back level with Boscastle. Not another bite.The bait mackerel were completely un-nibbled. Inexplicable. But all part of the fun and unpredictability of fishing I suppose.

Blue Shark next time maybe.

Touring the Thames

Terrific Thames
Terrific Thames

If you fancy a super-relaxing ,stress-free, multi-day, kayak-camping ,flat- water, ultra-historical, heart-of-Engand kayak trip? And maybe a teeny bit of fishing?Then the Thames is for you.

It’s got it all. In 135 miles from Cricklade to the tidal limit at Teddington (which was my first big trip when I got my first sit-on-top, a Prowler 15, in 2007) it matures from a bottom- scrunching trout stream to a seriously major slab of water . Not quite the Amazon, but good enough.

There’s hardly any grotty bits even when it flows through the dowdy bits round the back of unattractive towns. Like past the gasworks at Reading where the Kennet and Avon canal joins the main river. It’s dodgy for only half-a-mile and then is transformed into the very attractive wooded and hilly approach to Sonning lock.P1070088

From a watery point of view it’s noticeable that the weirs don’t smell of disinfectant mixed with washing powder. On most of the other  inland rivers I have ventured onto by kayak its as if someone is trying to mask over a horrendous stink with a deodorant. But not the Thames. It’s all unbelievably clean.

Last year’s trip with my brother’s and three chums from the super-clean waters of Scotland was a four day camping trip from Bablock Hythe (great name) just upstream of Oxford, to Boulter’s Lock at Maidenhead.

Abingdon
Abingdon

Given the time limit this seemed like the best eighty mile section to do because it combines some excellent tranquil countryside sections with a few attractive historical towns such as Oxford, Abingdon and Henley. And the two most attractive locks on the river…Sonning and Cookham. And some great places to camp. And a load of riverside hostelries.

Camp at Goring
Camp at Goring

I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the  concept of two pub meals a day. Well actually we only did that once but the amount we consumed in the evenings, certainly in terms of calories, made up for the fact that on the other days we only had a ‘light’ snack of pies, cakes and cream-laden delicacies at lunchtime. And more for tea.

Henley Water Hole
Henley Water Hole

In fact this is the very first kayak-camping trip I have done where I have had to loosen my belt a notch upon return home, usually it’s adjusted the other way.

So if you like your gourmet comforts, and you enjoy flat water touring, and you don’t want to have the hassle of portaging a heavily laden kayak around any weirs or obstructions, the Thames is for you. Just buy an environment agency license before you go (or be a member of the BCU), and you are entitled to go through the locks. The lockeepers are in attendance during working hours; outside that time you can operate the gates yourself.

Camraderie in the locks
Camraderie in the locks

Fantastic..about as relaxing as it could be.

Fishing is restricted and I don’t think you are allowed to troll a lure but if you did you might well find yourself battling a feisty Pike like this one which might well jump clean out of the water and make your heart miss a beat as your are reeling it in , and then might bite a hole in your drysuit sock as your are attempting to unhook it. But better than a hole in your foot.

Power-packed Pike
Power-packed Pike

The wildlife encounters on our trip were much beter than I expected, especially the birds. Virtually every waterfowl had just hatched out a brood of ducklings/goslings/cygnets/ and probably had their work cut out trying to avoid their fluffy offspring becoming the Pike’s main course (it would probably consider my drysuit sock to be a dessert, or possibly even an appetiser, like dry toast with pate).

Mandarin duck and offspring
Mandarin duck and offspring

They are all pretty tame so you could cruise along quietly and get very close views without causing too much disturbance.

Gang of greylag goslings
Gang of greylag goslings

We had only one ‘difficult’ moment. After a long day’s paddle from Goring (near the pub) to Henley (near the pub) we were keen to set up camp (so we could go to the pub) and pitched our tents on the outskirts of the town. However we were moved on in a very firm but pleasant manner to an official campsite half a mile away up a hill and across the main road. What a fag it was to take all the camping stuff up there! Just to pitch our tents in the corner of a field. The only bonus was watching the Red Kites floating about effortlessly like…er…a kite, matched only by the colossal unfeasible flying bulk of the Airbus A380s stacking up on their approach to Heathrow.

Airbus A380
Airbus A380

There’s a couple of cracking backwaters between Reading and Henley which provide three or four miles of alternative route down small channels draped in willows, not navigable to larger boats. I remember seeing a load of water voles on these streams when I was a gangling youth….sadly they seem to have all gone.

Hennerton Backwater
Hennerton Backwater

Of course summer is the time to do this trip.Leave it a month or two.

Thames at its best
Thames at its best