Thursday, 14 May 2015

13/5/15 Toping.

A couple of days ago I decided to drag 'Jupiter' out on her trailer to inspect her bottom, and clean off any unwanted vegetation. She'd not been out of the water since the last shark trip in October and, I'd noticed that there appeared to be quite a bit of growth around the tilt hydraulics. Also,  my boarding ladder was beginning to look like a garden despite attacking it regularly with a stiff brush, and similarly my transducer also looked a bit fluffy around the edges..
In reality, the quantity of weed growth wasn't drastic, but there was a thin coating of slime on the hull which was easily removed with a pressure washer. I doubt very much whether it would have affected the efficiency of the boat, and haven't really noticed any reduction in performance, but it was a worthwhile exercise to perform especially as it was so quickly and easily carried out.
Whilst she was on dry land , I gave her yet another coat of polish to keep her looking 'sweet' before re-launching her at the public slipway virtually single handed.-my long suffering wife being pressed into service to drive the 'rig' back round to the marina.
In truth she hates the job usually because there's always some gawping onlooker ,  hoping that something will go wrong with a launch. To be fair, the public slipway can be an interesting place to be at times, especially summer week-ends but, on this occasion, I'm pleased to say that I failed to entertain........unless of course you find the sight of a 1 ton boat glide off a trailer , fire up its engine, and motor off in one smooth movement appealing.
Bragging I may be, but it has taken a bit of forethought, and practice to get it this good- I really must film it sometime.
Tope are one of my favourite species and, at this time of year, can be found in the deep gullies that abound in the eastern Solent. I understand that they can appear as early as April, and indeed have recently learned that , in the past, this was the case- perceived opinion being that the big females appear first to drop their pups. My good friend Neil French introduced me to this superb fishing and I have everything to thank him for.
Tope are one of the few proper 'sporting' species that we have in the U.K (sharks excepted) that can really 'pull your string' often displaying some pretty fast line stealing manoeuvres . If possible they should be tackled with light gear and 12 to 20lb class U.K rods can be used in shallow water.
On my chosen marks, small tides are needed as the currents and depths fished  often require very heavy leads to get the baits down to the feeding zone on the sea bed and yesterday's 5.1 metre, was practically on the limit.  With single figure wind speeds forecast for most of the day, I just had to take the opportunity even though, failing to find crew, I had to go solo.
Mackerel haven't yet arrived in any numbers to provide fresh bait but, as I've never really had an issue using frozen, and the tope don't ever seem too fussy, the freezer was raided.
Half baits, heads or tails work equally well, are generally used mounted on a circle hook but I've tweaked my end rig a little for this season.
 A tip I picked up from a bass angling buddy is to snell the circle hook to the trace, in my case I favour the use of heavy commercial mono rather than wire which I find a little harsh.
Tying the hook in this way angles the 'circle' back towards the trace making it more efficient at hooking up and, I must say, that I connected with every run today, yet each fish was cleanly attached  in the scissors making hook removal a 'breeze'.
Seven tope came to the boat and all of a good size with the best approaching 40lb on the scales. A few 'doggies' and a welcome thornback ray added some variety. Most of the tope were T  barred at the side, but a couple were brought on board for weighing and  photographing which I managed to achieve using the time lapse facility on the 'Go-Pro'.
Tope require careful , but firm handling if bringing on board in order to facilitate a successful return without harming fish, or angler, especially if going solo. Don't forget tope are protected and MUST be returned.
The drill is this; Once the fish is on the surface and played out , I tend to firmly grab the trace, slacken off the reel drag then place the rod  securely in a holder- its not sufficient simply to rest the rod against the gunwale-if the tope wants to dive it can easily take the rod with it. Failing to slacken off the drag can also result in a broken rod tip as I've found out to my expense. Of course, if you've got crew, they can simply control the rod and reel themselves.
I ALWAYS remove the lead from its clip and set it aside. As a boat owner there is nothing worse than having up to a pound of metal 'dinging' your precious gel coat-believe me.
 If you're going for a water release then now is the time to get busy with the T bar but, If you're going to bring the tope on board it should be grabbed by the wrist of the tail with your free hand,  supported under the main body with the other which you sharply switch from holding the trace, and lifted on to the deck in one swift movement. A deck completely clear of loose objects is absolutely essential.
 Once inside the boat, you need to get down on yer' knees, and straddle the fish with, for obvious reasons, the head facing away from you, and your legs firmly gripping the body to prevent it from thrashing about and harming itself.
 I wouldn't recommended carrying out this manoeuvre whilst wearing shorts as you might find you end up with a 'nasty rash'. Tope have skin like sandpaper.
With one hand firmly gripping the top of the snout to open the mouth , I tend to lay my forearm along the fishes' back, the hook can be removed using pliers with the free hand, and then the fish is quickly slipped head first into a weigh sling.
 I use a huge version with a hood that is designed for sharks but any decent sized sling that supports the full length of the body, and covers the head will suffice.
 Once the eyes are covered the tope usually settles down and can be weighed or measured although sometimes, the scales bounce around so much with the rocking of the boat that an estimated weight has to suffice.
If a photograph is to be taken the same firm tail grip and body support is used as when bringing the fish on board and on bigger fish , say 40lb plus, I find it much better to sit down on a seat or box, and drape the tope across the knees.
The return should be carried out 'head first' and I find it does no harm at all if you actually 'fire' the fish downwards into the sea, rather like throwing a big dart.
 I'm pleased to say that every tope I've ever caught has been successfully unhooked, and released safely though I'll admit, it helps no end if you can practise on 'pack' sized fish before tackling the big girls.

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