Thursday, 31 July 2014

30/7/14 Jupiter Gets The Beast


Much derided by some anglers , surely nobody would argue that conger eels are a terrific sporting prospect in our local waters.
 With the possible exception of tope,and perhaps a very rare Sussex/Hampshire shark, very few species will 'tug your string' with so much enthusiasm and I think that detractors of this wonderful fish are missing the point somewhat.
 Previous night trips to my newly discovered mark (new to me anyway)had been restricted, time wise, by work commitments and i was desperate to give the venue more time and fish through the night -the prime feeding time for these big eels. I was also curious to see how the venue would fish on the bigger tides, my previous forays being restricted to neaps. Joining me on the trip was my mate Simon who ,in the past,has brought good luck and had some terrific trips with me on 'Jupiter'.

Simon hadn't fished for conger from a boat before, had only caught one 'strap' fish from the shore, and his biggest capture of any specie of 17lb so, I felt pretty confident we had a good chance of improving on that score tonight.
He also had to borrow some kit for the job from me and, the only suitable right hand wind reel I had in my collection was a 1960's Penn Long Beach which i'd loaded with 50lb braid.
 Leaving port at 1730 in order to catch the last of the ebb over the bar at the river entrance we spent a few fruitless hours trying to catch bass on lures with just one lost fish to show for our efforts. I suspect that they may have moved close in to the inshore reefs now because friends are catching them in good numbers on marks so shallow i can't even risk getting my Warrior anywhere near them.
 As the light began to fade, I 'called it' and we headed for the conger mark for the 'real 'fishing to begin.
 I hadn't fished the structure on a flooding tide and it soon became apparent that the flow was weaker , and less predictable in this direction not helped by a North Westerly breeze which continually pushed the boat off line.
Simply put, our baits just weren't where i wanted them to be and this was reflected by a distinct lack of action.I think we both had one tentative take each.
 I needed to pull something out of the hat and, as the tide turned and settled into the ebb the boat held steady exactly where I wanted her to be,just yards off  the North east corner of the structure. Almost immediately something started to pay attention to our half mackerel baits-we'd already been out for six hours and finally had a bite!!
 First fish up however,wasn't a conger, but a nice 12lb undulate to Simon's rod-the only other specie apart from conger that I've seen from the area.
 At about 1-00 a.m Simon responded to a finicky take (rarely do these eels take the bait with any enthusiasm)and his rod bent into something a bit special.
 Luckily the old Penn reel had held up well and with a show of considerable angling skill on Simon's part, twenty minutes or so later , he had his prize at the side of the boat. During the battle I hadn't been idle, catching and 'T barring' a fish of my own of about 20lb. Being something of a gentleman, Simon rarely uses expletives but they were flowing with aplomb when he caught sight of his fish as it was truly huge.
We both agreed that she would have to come aboard for a proper 'weights and measures' session, and the cockpit was quickly prepared to receive the beast.
 Neatly chin gaffing the eel, with a firm two hand grip and a swift 'heave' she easily slid over the Warrior's rounded gunwhale , and was brought on board in one clean movement. With her head touching the inner transom, and her tail well and truly planted between the seats she literally filled up the boat- a huge fish.
The chin gaff proved to be an excellent idea enabling us to easily control the fish for pictures and subsequently 'lead' her head into the shark sling which was used for weighing. Once her eyes were covered we slipped the gaff and she became quite docile allowing us to straighten her out for a measure.
A fish in stunning condition , she was exactly 7 feet long and after subtracting the weight of the sling, weighed 72lb, annihilating Simon's previous best fish weight by 55lb.
 The sling also proved to be invaluable when returning the conger as she slid back easily , majestically gliding down into the clear water- a fantastic sight that we shall both surely never forget.
 I caught two more lesser congers to about 40lb and we also got snagged by a fish each before calling a halt to proceedings as the sky lightened  at 4am.
 The ride home was a breeze at a steady 18kts on a calm sea and, standing to helm , my eyes quickly adapted to the half light giving me a clear view of any potential hazards- a really useful aspect of the Warrior.
 Once again Jupiter comes up with 'the goods' and it would appear that there are some very special conger living on this mark. Some of those we've lost in the past could have been big fish too and I think it will take a few more runs to unlock its secrets.
I did spend some more time mapping the mark prior to dropping the anchor and now have several waypoints on the plotter showing the layout of the structure and the extra knowledge gained about the tides will prove invaluable when planning future trips.

26/7/14 Hunting Mackerel

 A full set for 'the boy'

The word on the 'street' at the moment is that there is a distinct lack of mackerel about in our local waters-a worrying situation to say the least.
 Out at sea it's a subject that is constantly brought up over the air waves with everybody trying desperately to find some for bait, swapping locations and following up catches usually for just a handful of fish .
I use an awful lot of them myself for bait at this time of year for shark, tope conger and of course bass , and its essential for me to have a decent frozen stock. I even have a dedicated 'mackerel' freezer in my garage.
It's always great to get my son Jack out fishing in the boat-something we do together all too rarely nowadays. He'd just returned from a six week trip to North America and was able to spend a couple of days with the 'old man' before returning home to North Devon.
With limited time , we decided just to target mackerel on a short trip , something that's always good fun and for my part,something of a necessity. The problem is that they're extremely hard to find -my plan being just to head due south from the river entrance stopping every mile or so until we found them...hopefully.
To cut a long story short, we did find them, forty six of them to be precise and a good size too but, we had to travel five miles out before they showed in any numbers. Almost too valuable to eat, four were smoked up for lunch and the rest of this most precious commodity were consigned to the bait freezer. Listening to the radio , the quality of the general fishing was quite poor however, a certain marina neighbour did fill his boots somewhat with various flatfish and rays from the local sand banks-noted for the future.

22, 24/7/14 Nocturnal Meanderings

A few months ago , Dave recounted stories of night time conger fishing trips that he had made in the 1990s when he ran the boat fishing club section of our local police force. Littlehampton charter skipper of choice, in those days, was Mike Pratt with his 'ride', 'Blue Badger', and Dave took a personal best conger of 70lb on one of Mike's trips.
What aroused my curiosity most about these tales, was the nature of the mark fished. Dave could only remember its rough location by the  position of certain land marks, although he did recall that the fishing took place relatively close to the shore in shallow water, so close in fact, that on calm nights engine noise from road vehicles could clearly be heard.
 I decided to delve deeper but , after poking my nose around locally and asking a few questions, it would seem that the particular mark ( I did, by now, have a reasonable idea of what and where it was) had been somewhat forgotten. Coincidentally, my bass fishing buddy Pete had been Mike's regular crew mate in his younger days, but even he had no knowledge of the mark.
Eventually, it was a diving manual that came up trumps , including some very encouraging information about the resident fauna, although the location details given were hopelessly inaccurate.
There was nothing for it but to have a trip out and investigate, combining the facilities provided by those two most excellent of 'gadgets'-the GPS chart plotter, and the fish finder.
I will say at this point that , to date, I've haven't actually found the exact location of  Mike Pratt's supposed mark. I say 'supposed' because I suspect that Mike, and I might be completely 'off the mark' here, may have disguised the exact location  to his clients, by giving it a somewhat misleading name, and I can't say I blame him at all.
It took quite a bit of scanning the area in the fading light to actually find the structure we were looking for but eventually, the plotter screen filled up with a selection of waypoint marks and built up a picture of where we needed to place our baits.
I judged my first drop of the pick in the ebbing tide to be slightly off line, so re-anchored  enabling us to get our baits as close as we dared and this proved to be exactly the right move as it resulted in an immediate take and a very dark conger to my mackerel head of about 20lb-a good start.
Five more conger showed up in the short two hour session with Dave picking up the best- a fish of  close to 50lb would be my best guess. Dave's remark;' It's got a head the size of a labrador' gives a more descriptive indication of its size.
Standard tope traces were used of 150lb mono with 9/0 circle hooks on the end that counts, and these proved to be easily removed, with the conger still in the water, using a 'T' bar.
Two nights later we returned for another short session to exactly the same location although we were delayed slightly by having to fix a loose electrical connection on the boat before leaving, and further delayed by giving a jet skier with a flat battery a tow back to the public slipway.
If said jet skier hadn't been a friend of mine, I'd have probably ignored his call for help (just kidding).
Six fish hooked on this trip resulted in just two to the boat on my rod of around the 20lb mark . The remaining four takes had broken us by leading us into some heavy snags down below and we both felt that they were fish of a much bigger stamp.
Interestingly, no other species were caught and there was very little interest shown in our baits from 'lesser' fish.
Whether Dave's 70lb conger from the past came from here, we'll never really know for sure but, it would appear that we have come across quite a decent mark for conger fishing, and one that definitely warrants further investigation.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

21/7/14 British Bonefish.

I don't think I'll ever tire of mullet, in particular open river thick lips.
 They are the specie that got me back into fishing after a twenty year lay off, they fight like tigers and are particularly handsome looking. Some would say they are the U.K equivalent of the veritable bonefish-a quarry i'd certainly like to have a bash at myself one day.
 The marina is full of them and they usually start to appear in the early spring under the pontoons and boats. Some of them are quite big too and I have, on occasion, sneaked a little go at them, cloak and dagger fashion from my boat with some success, albeit against the marina rules. What's far more appealing however, is to take a trotting outfit, complete with 1960's Young's Trudex centre pin reel,home made cork on quill avon float, and a bucket of mashed bread, up to the open river at low tide and float fish downstream to 'spotted' fish.
 My favoured time is just as the tide is slackening, so the flow isn't too fierce, and to fish the bait at a rod length out in a couple of feet of water .
The mullet aren't quite as sizable as those found in the marina(this one went 3lb 2oz) but they still put up a spirited fight and provide a superb angling challenge. I only had the one today, in a short session of around a couple of hours in the hot, midday weather conditions which are usually not too favourable for catching mullet. A few missed bites also occurred over low water slack when they have more time to inspect the bait and generally are more finicky in nature so it was entertaining fishing.

13/7/14 Back On The Shingle Again.

Fishing isn't always about catching loads of fish-well it isn't for me anyway and, because i rarely catch 'loads' of fish , i feel more than qualified to make that comment.
Very few of my boat owning colleagues, with the exception of Clive who should be considered to be a true 'allround' sea angler,fish from the sea shore. In a way, having the luxury of being able to fish afloat 'spoils' you and sea fishing on 'terra firma' becomes hard work.
 It's a fact, that catching from beaches and rocks is more difficult and i would certainly class it as more challenging but no less enjoyable. It's certainly a lot simpler and cheaper than fishing afloat.
I've been trying, unsuccessfully , to catch a shore stingray of late-something i've wanted to accomplish for many years. A return to Simon's mark produced a stonking bite that failed to connect .A trip to Clymping with Jim Campbell, who has quite a bit of experience with the specie in this locale, failed to hit the target but the feisty smoothound above took a shine to my big ragworm baits providing an entertaining fight in the process and reminded me how much fun beach angling can be, particularly in darkness.
A welcome sight indeed and, as I've had some pretty spectacular smoothound catches on local beaches in the past, albeit somewhat sporadic in nature,worth bearing in mind over the next few tides sets. Three of us took thirty one night from the back of my house in August 2008 but, it's definitely a case of, there one night, gone the next.
Dave and me also ventured  to Bracklesham, which has a formidable hound reputation, and watched as an angler just a couple of groins away, filled his boots with half a dozen whilst we blanked.That's the way it is sometimes.
Approach shore angling with realistic expectations and you will enjoy the experience and somehow a shore caught fish feels more worthy than one captured afloat.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

8/7/14 A New Tope Mark

The tope fishing locally has been a little disappointing this year with few big fish showing up in catches. I'm still a little confused as to whether the big fish appear early, or late in the season but will assume that it will still be worth targeting them until September on the Selsey marks.
Dave joined me on this one and we immediately headed to my 100ft mark at the chair but, apart from the odd pack tope, the omnipresent cat sharks were in excellent bait stealing form, although a couple of rays did make an appearance.
A move was in order so I decided to try a previously unexplored mark, noted on the plotter as 'Owers Tope'.
I've no idea where the numbers emanated from though I suspect they formed part of a generic list that everyone on the marina seems to gets hold when they start out.
To cut a long story short the mark did produce a few tope, and not a bad size with perhaps a couple getting close to the 30lb mark and will be logged for future small tide outings.
I've been busy  with boat maintenance issues of late. Following the Devon trip and before 'Jupiter' was returned to her mooring, I gave her hull a fresh coat of antifoul paint, a job that I'd not been looking forward to.
The existing paint is 20 months old and has held up well probably because every time I drag her out for a shark trip, I give her 'bottom' a thorough good going over with the pressure washer, but there were areas that were wearing a bit thin and needed attention.
With high winds forecast for a few days , but fine dry weather, it seemed like an ideal time to get on with the job in hand and not wait for the winter, traditionally the time for doing this sort of thing.
In the end it was actually quite an easy task and was carried out quickly and efficently by jacking the boat on axle stands whilst keeping the trailer in place and , after a quick polish, she was back in the water again. Job done. The Warrior is proving to be a very easy boat to live with.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

30/6 and 2/7/14 The Elusive Porbeagle Shark.




.Elusive indeed as once again, despite perfect conditions over two days fishing, I failed to find them.
Joining me on both days was my good friend , Ilfracombe local, and excellent crew Nick 'Pix' Dabney . Having dropped the boat on the visitor's mooring the evening before our first day's fishing, Nick suggested that we might nip out of the harbour and catch some mackerel for an hour or two. Joining hi us for the trip was Nick's mate,  Keith. Back home in Sussex , mackerel aren't exactly plentiful this summer but the same cannot be said at Ilfracombe where the sea is absolutely teeming with them. Within a hour we'd filled the cool box with a least a hundred and the campsite freezer was commandeered later that evening so I could at least take some back home to Sussex.
We covered a massive amount of ground on the two days shark fishing from just south of Hartland down to the radar dishes and caught plenty of Pollack, and even more tope, some of them of a decent size approaching 40lb. Back home this sort of fishing would be regarded as superb but, it was simply not what we were there for. At times the tope were so thick on the ground (see the picture of the sounder screen) that we  failed to get all our shark baits out before a run occurred and tope regularly followed a hooked fish up to the boat. Sometimes we were looking at four or five fish in the water beneath the hull, quite a sight.
Nick did try to tempt one with a lure and indeed dropped a shad right on to the nose of one of the 'followers' . It approached the lump of plastic, then casually turned away and here, there is a lesson to be learned. Perhaps tope do have slightly more discerning tastes than other species otherwise we would see more of them caught on lures.
Evetually we succumbed and decided to enjoy the tope fishing by scaling down our gear to normal boat rods and actually fishing for them. I have to say that catching them on the drift, just a few feet off the bottom is an engaging way of tackling these superb fish and something I'd be keen to try locally.
A couple of rather interesting sightings also took place during this trip. On three separate occasions Nick and me spotted tuna jumping. Yes, you did read that correctly. At first we weren't sure, but after the third sighting we don't think it could have been anything else- a fish of probably double figures. Incredible.
Secondly, we had a sunfish follow the boat for some time which was also a pretty incredible sight. A curious creature which we at first mistook for a shark fin on the surface.
So, despite failing to achieve the target specie, the trip was no less enjoyable and the fishing quite exciting. I learned a good deal more from the navigational point of view and now feel a little more confident negotiating a journey that frankly, this time last year, I was actually quite dubious about undertaking.
I will return.....soon.

25/6/14 Saved By The Bank


Tides were small and therefore favourable for a trip to the marks off of Selsey Bill for another tope hunt. Joining me on this one was my colleague Steve who had never before caught a tope and is usually found teasing the River Arun mullet.
We did pick tope up from the 100 foot depths at mark #41 but they were all pretty small 'pack' fish which, despite my crew's enthusiasm, I'll admit I was a little disappointed with. The big fish just haven't shown up much this year.
A move closer to the 'bill' to a recommended hound mark just produced a succession of bait robbing pouting so I decided to seek out a gully between a wreck and sand bank at #21- a mark kindly donated to me by Neil and one that I'd been meaning to try for some time.
What showed up here were blonde rays, and some nice ones too, another first for Steve who had thoroughly enjoyed his trip out on 'Jupiter' and, I guess,at the end of the day, that's all that matters.

19/6/14 Superbassing

I left the mooring about 6 a.m for this one on a very still morning and headed straight for one of my favourite reef marks with lure rods at the ready. With no other boats even out of the port , I had the sea to myself-perfect bass hunting conditions.
On arriving at the mark it was plainly obvious that the bass were indeed present , as the bird activity was 'manic' and the sounder particularly busy.I started off fishing a soft plastic swat shad vertically and it was a fish a drop from the start, averaging about 2-4lb.
Every now and again the surface of the sea would erupt as the huge shoals hit the surface, the birds giving away the exact location, signalling me to approach with 'stealth' and break out the surface plugs.
Using a 'walk the dog' patchinko, the action was again 'fast and furious' with the lure sometimes barely moving a yard or two before being savagely hit by the bass. Interestingly when I changed lures to a 'skitterpop' they seemed to show less interest although I did still hit a few.
All this went on for a couple of hours as I continually drifted the mark and held on to the massive shoals losing count at around 50 bass boated-fantastic fishing indeed.
Eventually another boat showed up following my drifts and, for a while at least, I continued to catch but, as the wind began to pick up and the tide dropped, the action waned and I decided to drop the pick and fish with baits.
Planting myself on the edge of reef #6 having picked up some welcome mackerel baits on the way it was, once again, a bite a drop. Three double figure undulates, a thornback and a couple of tope showed in a short space of time keeping me occupied to say the least even though I was hoping for a bit of a rest after the hectic morning I'd had thus far.
Occasionally we( there were two other boats on the mark) became shrouded by thick fog which enforced an eerie silence broken only by the splashing of those surfacing bass shoals somewhere in the murk.
Another move resulted in dropping the anchor at the, very snaggy 'lump' at mark #9, a mark I've not fished at anchor before. Bream were on the menu and some very good ones too with the one pictured above at 3lb the best of the session and kept for my old mate Ted Overington who was fishing nearby and wanted a nice one for tea. Some nifty work passing the fish from boat to boat in the landing net saw to that.
An excellent days fishing all told and one that I'm unlikely to forget mostly ,of course , for the bassing as It's a rare thing to immediately stumble across a good shoal like that.
I'm no great bass angler but I have two very good friends at the marina who do very well indeed with them ( as they do with other species too)
 Having bass fished with both of them it's clear to me that there are no secrets to their success, no special marks or methods, just an intimate knowledge built up over years of where the bass 'could' be found. The rest is down to patience and searching. Simple really.

14/6/14 Sting Ray

I've wanted to catch a sting ray for several years and usually plan to target them at this time of year each season. So far they've eluded me  but my good mate Simon Thurgood has done a little better.
Simon had not caught a Stinger for 20 years until this week, and then he goes and get's three from the same mark, two of which he had on tonight's tide-the first time I've ever actually seen one of these curious looking fish.
The first fish was a double followed by the cute little fellah in the picture which probably weighed about 4-5lb, and because it's glue like slime hadn't attracted any sand or stones to spoil it's look, made for a nice shot.
Bait was rag worm although Simon tells me he's also had them on fish baits and squid.It's actually quite fun being back out on the shingle, something I do all too rarely nowadays , and I shall continue to seek my target over the next few weeks.