It all started last winter when I discovered information about a huge porbeagle shark that had been caught on the North Devon coast from a 17ft Wilson Flyer dinghy. Angling journalist Graeme Pullen was the skipper, and Hampshire small boat enhusiast Wayne Comben was the man who had the pleasure of bringing the 'monster' to the side of the boat.It was his first shark trip!
Most anglers seeking shark will use a charter boat where pretty much everything is done for you by the skipper and you rely on their knowledge and experience but, to catch shark from a small trailered dinghy off your own back is, in my opinion , quite an achievement and something I was eager to attempt myself.
I managed to contact Wayne directly, we exchanged several emails discussing tackle , tactics etc and agreed to do a trip together sometime.
I read everything I could on the subject, finding books from the early sixties and seventies that are still useful to the present day shark tyro, as well as a wealth of information on the internet. However, apart from G.P there appears to be few anglers who have attempted shark fishing from a small boat.
Initially, I was interested in trying for the Devon porbeagles and using the WSF forum to research, eventually met up with Nick (Mr Pix) in Ilfracombe. We've since become good mates , I've had a run out in his own boat moored in 'Combe' harbour and it was his suggestion that I approach the 'porgie' grounds from his home port which also happens to be where my son Jack lives.
I had researched various launch points for this relatively isolated stretch of coastline, but they all proved to be unsuitable so I decided to go with Nick's advice if possible, though I did at this stage, have a preference to 'cut my teeth' on some blue sharks first, and build up my experience gradually.
Other preparations for this trip included the gathering of suitable equipment. I managed to track down a matching pair of new old stock left hand wind U.S built Penn 4/0 Senators and teamed them up with some inexpensive U.K class 50lb rods. The reels were loaded with 300yds of 80lb spectra braid with a 200yd 'top shot' of 50lb mono.
Alain Storey, also a WSF find, made up the excellent traces as I don't yet possess the required tools for the task.
10/0 Mustad hooks were crimped to 6ft of 350lb wire and attached by the biggest link swivel I've ever seen in my life. A 20ft (wind-on the reel) rubbing leader of 400lb strain was employed, and two huge sliding catfish floats were adapted for the task by attaching a run clip to the float body using cable ties.
This would enable the floats to be set at the required depth by trapping the main line in the run clip.Once a shark took, and the line tightened sufficiently to release from the clip, the float would slide all the way down to the bottom swivel-about 6ft from the hook.
This gear is probably a little 'over gunned' for blue shark and 30lb class kit would suffice however, I wanted a fighting chance should a bigger shark take a shine to my baits and during my research I found that there was always a chance of this happening, albeit a slim one.
A kidney harness and butt pad were also added to the list along with a massive 120 litre cool box used to transport the pre-made rubby dubby.
Partly because we were unsure of the availability of mackerel but also due to it's undoubted effectiveness, the chum mix was made up of waste trout sourced from my local trout fishery In Sussex.These discards would have simply been buried so it was a satisfying, if slightly unpleasant experience to make the stuff from a recipe provided by Graeme.
The trout flesh and guts etc were minced using one of those cast iron table top devices that everybody's Mum had in the 60's and 70's, blended with bran which soaked up the not inconsiderable quantity of oil that these pellet fed trout are comprised of, and then frozen into 3.5 litre food containers, creating a conveniently sized 'block'.I finished with ten of these, and a 15litre bucket which contained all the carcasses, heads skin, etc-also covered in bran to soak up any remaining oil and frozen. Nothing was wasted.
If I'm honest, knowing what I now know, i'd be reluctant to eat one of these fishery trout.
It took me nearly a day to process the whole lot in the garden at home a few weeks ago but, it was to be worth the effort.
The plan was to spend a week camping with the boat in the south-west starting at Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast ,meet up with my son Jack who lives there, and my daughter Grace who ,on the 25th would be celebrating her 21st birthday, and possibly get a trip out with Nick and Jack whilst I was there.
Following on from that, I would head to the south coast of Cornwall and meet Wayne at Falmouth.
It was a 'loose' plan and very much depended on the weather behaving but I began the trip in a philosophical mood and would simply wait and see what the 'wind gods' had in store for me.
For the first three days In Devon, fishing was completely out of the question-there was simply too much wind.I spent the time just hangin' with my kids, and Nick turned up at the camp site for a chat and to check out Jupiter.
Grace and me had spent a terrific 'day 3' walking the coast path together, checking out likely swims, and although 'day 4 ' was her birthday, she would be spending it with other family members so, sent me on my way.
She's a 'Top girl' my daughter, who fully understands her dad.
The weather for 'day 4' was looking promising with light winds so, a quick phone call was made to Wayne, and the boat hitched up for the 100 mile drive south arriving at Perranarworthal camp site just as darkness fell. We would be shark fishing in the morning!
A ten minute run from the camp site, the public slipway at Mylor is an absolute dream location to launch a boat . Shallow, sheltered, available at all states of the tide and with a convenient mooring pontoon and secure, cheap parking for van and trailer ,it's one of the finest I've seen.
This piece of advice was provided by local commercial fisherman, Frank Vinnecombe who, along with his brother Robin ran a couple of charter boats back in the 60s and 70s -the heyday of Cornwall shark angling.
Friends who use shark boats in neighbouring Looe tell me that they run a similar distance and depth so, there must be something to it.
We were a little concerned about whether or not we'd find mackerel for hook bait, especially as locally, the commercial fisherman had reported a shortage in recent years with a worsening situation.In Sussex,at the present time, they can be extremely tricky to locate.
We needn't have worried.With the chum bucket in play,the mackerel were soon attracted, our sets of feathers were full almost immediately and we soon amassed a box full for baits, albeit of quite a small size.
Once we'd had enough mackerel, the sharks rods were made ready.The four floats were set at varying depths from 10 to 40 ft , the shallowest being the closest to the boat, getting deeper further down tide. In this way, we attempted to set the baits within the chum trail which slowly sank as it drifted away from its source at the boat.
I suppose it took a couple of hours before the clicker on Wayne's TLD sang it's merry tune, and the 'Pompey Shark' bent into the first fish of the session. A very entertaining tussle ensued and, when the blue shark came into view, I'll admit to having my breath taken away somewhat.
An incredibly elegant fish with a long streamlined snout, huge 'winged' pectorals, a deep steely cobalt blue back, a bright pearly white underbelly and, of course, those teeth.A mightily impressive beast which Wayne estimated at about 75lb and cleanly released at the side of the boat.
I was elated. All the preparation and planning had paid off. A 'proper' shark caught from my own boat!!
Next , it was one of my Penns that burst into life and I had my first ever taste of being connected to a proper shark. Not a particularly prolonged fight, it has to be said, but the diving runs were very impressive and it was necessary to thoroughly tire this one out as it was coming on board for a photograph.
Working together with one swift motion, we lifted the shark on board and I straddled the fish in an attempt to settle her down. With the hook removed I could just about drape her across my knees for the photo session before she was unceremoniously 'heaved' once again, over the gunwale. None the worse for her experience, she immediately kicked off and dived into the depths, seemingly annoyed.
I've caught bigger sharks from a beach in Africa but no fish, by a long shot, has been so satisfying to catch. That shark was, at that point, the pinnacle of my angling career.
Wayne's next fish was about 60lb and was quickly followed by another take on one of my 'red' reels. This fish felt considerably heavier than my previous, and gave a much stronger fight with deeper, more prolonged soundings.
Eventually with the leader on the reel, we could see that this was a much bigger shark and, at first I was reluctant to bring my prize on board. Wayne managed to talk me into it having experienced a similar sized fish on Graeme's boat and, with hindsight, I'm so glad he did.
The pictures speak for themselves. The fishes snout rested between my two seats and the tip of the tail ended up much higher that the rod rail despite the body being 'snaked' across the deck. She made the Warrior feel very small indeed. I later estimated her at 94 inches, and Wayne reckoned she was a three figure fish -I'll never know for sure but don't care in the slightest. It was a huge fish to bring aboard my little boat.
Shortly before leaving for home we spied a couple of sunfish cruising slowly about ten yards away from the boat displaying their distinctive fin?????
We did try to follow and Wayne put out a bait but with no luck. An incredible sight to end the session.Happy 21st Birthday Grace!
Day 5 and we were blessed with an even calmer sea and slower drift speed, and this may have contributed to the sharks being a bit slower to find our chum trail. I think it was afternoon before Wayne took the first shark-another good fish in the 70lb bracket.
We'd seen sharks nudging the floats-apparently they're attracted to the colour -yellow. I hooked into a shark and felt a strong dive immediately and then it all went slack! The 400lb rubbing leader had been bitten clean through.
Obviously before taking the bait, and whilst investigating the float, the shark had tangled the rubbing trace in its teeth and severed the leader when tension was applied.
Interestingly, the two fish that were brought on board showed some 'teething ' problems by biting both my deck brush (also yellow) and , rather less amusing, getting a good toothy grip on one of the fuel tank filler caps. He soon let go probably disliking the taste of petrol but took a few brush bristles with him.By way of compensation, we later found a couple of teeth left inside the boat which we kept as trophies.
Whether it was the same shark, or there were a few in our 'swim', we're not sure but almost immediately, Wayne's neighbouring float took off at a pace ,the shark was firmly hooked and my crew settled down to play his fish.
I managed to clear two of the rods away before noticing my remaining rod buck violently, the 'Senator' scream loudly, and yet another shark had taken my bait. We had two on at once In something of a feeding frenzy.
Laughing at the situation, we managed to keep our sharks well apart. I let mine run away from the boat to keep it clear of Wayne's fish however, there were some slightly tense moments as my shark decided to swim towards the boat thankfully, changing its mind before coming into harms way.
Wayne managed to 'trace' his fish and quickly release it-another good sized shark of 70 plus before helping me deal with mine, a bigger specimen in the 80lb range, which was also cleanly 'T' barred at the side of the boat.
Back at the slipway and we met with a local bass guide who was actually quite surprised by our stories of local shark, and despite the excellent weather conditions we saw very few other boats 'out there'.
Day 6 and the good weather had started to break.
We could have tried our luck at the 'Manacles' and have been sheltered somewhat , the mark being in the lee of some high ground but, instead we stayed at the campsite and talked fishing before taking a short trip into the village for a pasty lunch.
It proved to be the correct decision as the wind picked up considerably in the afternoon.
Wayne wanted to call on Frank Vinnecombe who still has a boat in the harbour, and a fish shop in Mylor Bridge despite being nearly ninety years young.
This has probably been my longest blog entry and fittingly so, as it's most definitely been the most satisfying and exciting fishing I've ever experienced. Everything worked as it should and the boat behaved impeccably both on the water, and behind my camper van.
In the end,all the preparation, investigation and planning paid off, and we were lucky to pick up a fish or two.I'm already thinking about the next trip!