Finally, I've had an opportunity to drag the boat down to Falmouth , launching at Mylor,once again to chase blue shark-the first time this year. I had expected to be a 'pensioner' by now but things haven't quite panned out as planned so , at the moment, I'm still gainfully employed and to be honest,work is definitely scuttling my fishing plans for this year.
The intention was to stay in Falmouth for four or five days then, if the weather co-operated, move to Ilfracombe as the tides up there were favourable for porbeagle runs.
These shark trips take no small amount of preparation and I reckon I'd spent the best part of a whole day getting sorted for this one.
As a beginner sharker , you tend to absorb everything you are told or read about, and follow it to the letter . Having now had a few trips and gained a bit of experience, I've developed some ideas and made a few personal changes to bait and equipment that may not be the norm, nor to the liking of others out there in the U.K shark world.
Back in the heyday of South West shark fishing the would be 'sharker' could easily gather enough mackerel on 'the' day for their chumming needs. Nowadays things are a bit different and, judging by the general lack of mackerel showing anywhere, particularly in Sussex, an alternative needs to be found although, as will become apparent later in this blog entry, It's not all 'doom and gloom'.
Whatever the case I couldn't take the risk of relying on catching enough mackerel so had to take pre-prepared chum down with me. I've tweaked the original trout recipe somewhat by salting, instead of freezing it to keep it 'fresh' . I use the term 'fresh' quite loosely and perhaps 'preserved' would be a better term to use as it quite literally stinks to high heaven.
Basically the trout is salted as its gathered at the trout fishery and stored in one of those blue 65 litre drums with a sealed lid that you see everywhere, but can't seem to get hold of when you need one. Once it's full, I get a call from my 'agent' to come and collect it but it doesn't get anywhere near my van until it's had a thorough scrub with a stench masking kitchen surface cleaning solution, much to the amusement of my 'agent'. The drive home is always undertaken with a certain amount of trepidation.
If the neat chum is left to 'ferment' in the drum for a few weeks prior to processing, the salt tends to break down the fish (bones et al)and you are left with a substance of the consistency of porridge which can then easily (relatively speaking) be mixed with bran with no other preparation.
If you're in a rush then the trout need to be 'processed' ,which, in effect means 'mashed down' and by far the most effective , and quick way of doing this is by passing the fish through a domestic garden mulcher although the process is hideously messy and far from neighbour friendly.
Once mixed with bran the chum is stored in fifteen litre buckets with tightly sealed lids and usually, two of these will provide you with enough for a day's shark fishing. The sixty five litre drum of 'neat' trout when combined with a twenty kilo sack of bran produces about ninety litres, or six buckets of chum-enough for three days fishing.
For this trip I transported twelve buckets of chum and , as they weigh 35lb each, that was a considerable weight (420lb) to add to my trailered boat and needed careful consideration when loading and securing as there was absolutely no way I was going to lug that lot down in the back of my van, especially as it also served as my bedroom for the duration of the trip. In reality, once sealed in the buckets and cleaned, they emit relatively little odour and I shall be calling on my crew members to partake in the chum transport duties in the future.
After some experimentation,I've also tweaked the dispensing system by loading the chum into a tight weave vegetable sack which sits inside a chum bucket (again 15 litre). This has 20mm holes drilled into its sides. This regulates the chum to a steady flow and I've now learned to actually time how long each sack will last before it needs to be changed- about an hour at least.
I can usually get about three to four sacks from each bucket and by pre-packing the sacks in the buckets before each trip, and loading the chum bucket on the Warrior's extremely convenient transom deck, the mess inside the boat can be kept to an absolute minimum- a lesson I learned in the spring when it took nearly a day to clean up the boat afterwards with a pressure washer.The smell lingered for much longer.
Keeping the deck chum free also means its slip free . Get any of that oil rich muck on the deck and it becomes akin to an ice rink-less than ideal when tussling with a shark.
Salting, as opposed to freezing the chum means I can transport and store enough for extended trips lasting longer than just a couple of days and not rely on camp site freezers which would be anti social to say the least. I first tried this chum on last autumn's blue and porbeagle trips and it worked a treat attracting plenty of shark, and it also seems to keep well long term.
I had a couple of buckets left over from last year and the contents hadn't deteriorated in the slightest-the smell had lost none of it's 'tang' and the shark seem to love it as do tope, and I'm now wondering how many other applications it could be used for. My shallow water nocturnal conger outings immediately spring to mind.
On the tackle front, I'm now totally hooked (pun fully intended) on circle hooks for shark fishing. Having had such success with them on the blues last autumn, when I first started to use them, I continued with them on this trip and ALL the shark taken on them were neatly hooked in the corner of the mouth without fail.
I've also completely got the 'hang' of the unhook with a 'T' bar bringing the shark alongside the boat, a process which can be more difficult with a circle pattern of hook.
Basically it works like this; once the shark is alongside and played out ,hand the rod to your crew member and get them to bend into the shark applying as much tension as possible. The drag should be set accordingly in case the shark dives and the crew should grip the spool tightly with their thumb . Run your gloved hand along the wire back along the body of the shark (do not take a wrap.....ever) . This will turn the circle around and if the T bar is pulled in exactly the opposite direction , the hook releases quite easily. It takes a bit of practice but, by the end of this trip I had it mastered and was able to cleanly release each shark in seconds.
This process works a whole heap better if a wind-on leader is being used and here we court controversy again. The subject has been debated, sometimes quite heatedly, on internet forums and the like but speaking personally, I think they work a treat especially on a small boat.
In some respects regarding sea fishing tackle, we in the U.K are still in the dark ages but across the pond they've been using wind-on leaders and braid for shark fishing for years.
My own first batch of four wind-ons, having had some use, are now showing their age somewhat and although they're still perfectly usable will be replaced with some new versions of my own design as I've recently purchased the materials to construct them.
The 'originals' were built with 450lb mono which take up quite a bit of space on the reel spool and I'm not sure leaders of this guage are entirely necessary. The new batch will be built using 250lb hard commercial mono main bodies and hollow Dacron of 130lb-more than enough when you consider that the main line strength is 50lb.
On the subject of main line most U.S shark anglers I've spoken to on the internet use a braid main line with a mono top shot and wind-on leader and they're catching far bigger shark than we will ever see in the U.K. This means that they can use much smaller reels and this is something I intend to try next season even going so far as using an Avet MX for the blue shark.
To be honest, the conger I'm catching of late potentially give me far more trouble at the boat that a blue shark and I'm fishing the tiny MX with braid right through to a ten foot leader for them with absolutely no issues whatsoever.
Don't get me wrong,my Penn reels continue to give solid reliable service especially with the 'smooooothed out drags' but they are a bit of a 'lump'. Conversely, Dave's almost brand new Shimanos gave him so much grief on this trip with both reels displaying faulty drag mechs rendering them almost unfishable ,that they have been sent back to the supplier.
Another change I made on this trip was to put the boat on a pontoon mooring rather than recover her each day. I'm actually in two minds as to the advantages of this at Mylor because the slipway is so easy and quick to use and its certainly handy having the boat with you back at the superb camp site I use at Perranarworthal in the evenings to sort stuff out.
It costs but, the staff at Mylor marina do take good care of your boat . One morning the wind had picked up a bit and I'd been forced by space issues the previous evening to leave the boat on an outside pontoon-something I wasn't entirely comfortable with at the time.(Always follow your instincts) The staff had seen my 'mistake' and kindly moved my boat to a quieter mooring for me using an inflatable tug -superb service indeed.
And so to the fishing..........
Wayne joined me for the first two days with Dave arriving for days three and four and by day five, a brisk easterly had built up curtailing any more sharking activities.
The majority of the drifting was done on an ebbing tide with high water In the morning. This meant that I needed to head the boat out in a South Easterly direction to take full advantage of the drift and ensure that the boat continued to drift effectively for what would usually turn out to be eight or nine hours of fishing. I had been advised that the shark could be caught as close as six miles out but this was from someone who uses charter boats with a much shorter fishing day.
However, Andy Howell who runs a Warrior 165 in Cornwall as a charter and specialises in small boat sharking agreed with our long distance approach so the usual 240ft depth was sought and this meant a ten to twelve mile run out to sea and an obvious temperature rise on the fish finder.
The first three days found us floundering somewhat as the ebb died off pushing us closer in to land in a clockwise direction at very slow drift speeds towards the end of the day.
Whilst on the last day of the last trip in 2013 this worked a treat with six shark in very quick succession as the boat approached the Manacles, the same cannot be said for this year and indeed on day three, the boat ended up in a mere 60ft of water and so close to land that I called the day to a halt an hour or so early.
On day one when drifting effectively five shark came to the boat (four to my rods) with a couple approaching the six foot mark and the first one hitting my bait within minutes of starting to fish.
The same quick take occurred on day two to my rod and eight shark (four each) in total came to the boat - a new boat record for numbers of blue shark caught in a day.
Dave's first outing (day three) once again produced a very quick take but things slowed right off with just two shark (one each) to the boat and a couple of dropped baits.
On day four everything seemed perfect and i'll admit I was brimming with confidence. I'd punched out just a tad further to ensure an effective all day long drift and this did indeed happen. The slight easterly assisted us by speeding up the drift slightly and the chum trail was absolutely spot on, the boat holding so steady it did not need correcting even once during the day to prevent the lines tangling but................just one shark took my bait all day long and this one made an effective escape anyway. Bugger. I don't think I've ever felt so let down but, that is fishing.
All of the fifteen shark were fat and fit, probably satiated on mackerel, giving us far better fights than those caught last year and I suppose half a dozen were in the six foot range.
As for other life forms in the water well, what can I say about the mackerel. They were absolutely everywhere and not once did we need to resort to frozen hook baits. To be honest we could have relied on them easily to provide enough chum if only we'd known.
At the end of day two Wayne even filled a cool box up to take home-a very wise move indeed, as well as snaffling a p.b red gurnard on a baited feather.
Wildlife highlight was the spectacular sight of a pod of bottle nosed dolphins literally smashing a shoal of baitfish, breaching fully on occasion with a superb view of a good ten footer which swam right under my hull in the crystal clear water.
As mentioned earlier by day five the easterly wind had picked up sufficiently for us to curtail sharking and give the harbour a try. Unfortunately that wind funnelled up the valleys and even quite high up the inlets conditions were too difficult to fish effectively but we'd had a good look around anyway and the scenery is certainly pleasing on the eye.
A very enjoyable trip indeed but whether I'll return to Falmouth next year will remain to be seen as I'm starting to think about new destinations for future blue shark trips.
Unfortunately, although I towed the boat up to Ilfracombe after leaving Mylor to visit my son Jack and inspect his new workshop, the easterly winds persisted and I was advised by Nick (Pix) my local North Devon contact, that it wasn't going to happen this time so the porbeagles will have to wait for another day, and another tide.