Thursday, September 24, 2015

The best laid schemes o' fish an' men.

On Sunday the 13th I headed down to Cornwall with my good friend and fellow species hunter Ross. He booked three days out on Penzance skipper Chippy's charter boat Bite Adventures earlier this year and I had eagerly reserved a space when he asked me if I wanted one. Subsequently the two of us decided to stay down on the south coast to do a bit more species hunting and extended our trip to last a full week. Joining us for the first three days to fish on the boat were two of Ross's mates from his University days whom both brought along their dads. The rich waters Chippy operates in offer anglers the opportunity to catch a wide variety of species including some that aren't really found elsewhere around the UK coastline so we were all looking forward to hopefully catching some of our favourites or species that we had never caught before. Personally I had the following little list of species I was looking forward to perhaps catching, some of which are amongst my "Most Wanted" targets.
  1. Black Faced Blenny
  2. Brill
  3. Dover Sole
  4. Gilthead Seabream*
  5. Greater Weever*
  6. Grey Triggerfish 
  7. John Dory 
  8. Meagrim Sole
  9. Porbeagle
  10. Red Seabream
  11. Reticulated Dragonet
  12. Thin Lipped Grey Mullet 
* I've caught these before but not in UK waters.

Spirits were high leading up to the trip but as has been the case many times this year the weather threw a spanner in the works. On the way down the M5 Chippy called Ross to tell him that the strong south westerly winds that had been blowing and were due to continue the following day meant that our first day out on the boat was cancelled due to the swell that was running. Tired from the journey down and after a drink in the holiday complex's bar we all went to bed fairly early. As we were staying in Hayle, in the morning Ross and I went and had a look at the pool there that is famous for producing gilthead seabream after picking up some supplies, tackle and bait. It looked promising but as the tide was on its way out we decided to head elsewhere. The rest of the lads decided to stay locally but Ross and I drove east to Mevagissey to seek shelter and spend a couple of hours targeting mini species. It's one of our favourite marks to fish and on a good day can easily produce over a dozen species. Upon arrival we found the sea to be nice and flat with the wall behind us on the breakwater offering us a little protection from the wind and the odd light shower. Fishing on the bottom with small sections of ragworm we were hopeful that we might get lucky and catch a reticulated dragonet. None turned up but we had an enjoyable session catching mainly wrasse to begin with.

A nice colourful corkwing wrasse was my first fish of the trip.
We caught a few ballan wrasse too.

Ross was also after a common dragonet and a long spined sea scorpion for a species hunting competition he is taking part in this year. Both are common captures at Mevagissey and Ross soon got comfortable at a spot he's caught them both at before.

Ross was fishing using a light feeder rod and was soon getting tiny knocks from something small. After borrowing some #18 hooks from me he eventually caught the culprits, tiny common dragonets and shortly afterwards he caught a long spined sea scorpion too.

Before we left Mevagissey Ross got another call from Chippy to say that the boat was cancelled again the following day as the swell hadn't died down enough for it to be worth going out. Not great news but Chippy was almost certain that we would get out on Wednesday as the wind was forecast to change direction and the swell would calm right down as a result. Ross was keen to catch a lesser weever for his species hunt competition so I suggested we head north to Charlestown, a lovely little harbour that holds lots of them. We both caught one on our first cast.

Normally I visit St Ives for lesser weever as the numbers of them there hiding in the fine golden sand are quite incredible but Charlestown is also a very good place to catch them. With so many around unhooking them soon becomes a pain so I debarb my hooks and try to shake them off using my forceps.

Fishing away we also caught a lot of pin whiting, a few corkwing wrasse and the odd blenny. Sand smelt were also about in great numbers and I decided to keep a dozen or so to have for my dinner. I've never eaten them before but my friend Dimitrios had told me they were tasty coated in gram flour and fried so that's exactly what I did when we got back that evening. Dusted with a little paprika and finished with a generous squeeze of lemon juice they were indeed most delicious!

The next day the rest of the lads did their own thing again and headed to the south coast whilst Ross and I went east again. This time we went to Falmouth to target thick lipped grey mullet. Some bread ground bait was thrown in at our chosen spot and while we waited on the mullet to arrive we fished ragworm on the bottom. This soon saw a few ballan wrasse being caught. When the mullet began to arrive we free lined bread for them, sight fishing in the crystal clear water. Ross managed to get his bread to sink very slowly, this soon had plenty of mullet mouthing it and when one greedily swallowed the generous flake he was fishing he quickly struck and set his hook. Landing the fish was tricky as my net didn't quite reach the water but by laying on my stomach and outstretching my arm Ross lifted the fish up a few feet and I swept the net across scooping it up.

A nice Falmouth thick lipped grey mullet for Ross.

Keen to get one myself it didn't seem to matter how much I squeezed my bread to remove the air my bait just didn't want to sink. Ross told me he had one of my #10 hooks on which is what I was using too so I was slightly bemused but when he showed me how he was pinching on his bread to get it to sink slowly I noticed that he had in fact taken a #6 from my box instead and quickly tied one on myself. My buoyancy issues were rectified straight away and shortly afterwards I was soon into a mullet myself which Ross netted nicely for me. 

Slow sinking bread flake was a killer presentation.

Ross caught two more before we decided to head off to Fowey to try for some flatfish. Ross was keen to catch a flounder for his species hunt whilst I fancied trying for a topknot just because they are cool but the estuary was fairly coloured up from all of the recent rain and neither of us got what we were after. Instead we ended up catching a few goldsinny wrasse and a few gobies before driving back to Hayle.

These goldsinny didn't seem to mind the murky water.

Driving down to Penzance the following morning our gear was quickly loaded onto Bite Adventures and off we went. On the way to our first stop Chippy told us about recent catches including some incredible days he'd had catching lots of blue and porbeagle sharks. The weather meant that we wouldn't get an opportunity to go out to the grounds where they had been caught though and we would be restricted to fishing mostly inshore. Our first stop of the day was fairly close in drifting over nice clean ground. Ross and I were both keen to catch a greater weever as we had never caught one in the UK before. The rest of the lads had other species they were keen to catch and some got theirs fairly quickly when some turbot, plaice and gurnards were boated. I wasn't having much joy at all but after a few drifts where all I picked up were mackerel I hooked what I thought was another one only to see a greater weever appear.

I was just happy to catch something other than a mackerel! I could tell Ross was a little jealous and hoped he would get one too.

A few more were boated by the other lads and Ross was reminded by Chippy how easy it was to catch one every time one was brought onboard. After a few more drifts we tried fishing further offshore to target John Dory but the boat was drifting too fast and we were struggling to hold bottom. Heading back inshore again Ross resumed his search for a greater weever. We were also all hopeful that a meagrim sole might get boated. None were but after a few other flatfish, gurnards, whiting and a solitary cod were caught Ross finally got his first UK greater weever.

It'd only taken Ross three years to finally catch one. Often having to watch others get them on previous trips. 

As the afternoon progressed I was still having quite a poor day in terms of the variety of species I was catching but was hopeful that we would end the day trying to catch red seabream, a species I've never caught before. Unfortunately Chippy soon told us that the ground where they were found would be unfishable due to the wind so we ended the day fishing inshore and catching a few wrasse over rougher ground before heading back to port. It had been a good day out in the boat and whilst I hadn't caught that many different species between the six of us seventeen had been boated. A few had been kept and that evening the six of us enjoyed a superb meal made with them along with a few cold drinks.

In the morning we all got our gear sorted and packed our cars. Ross and I said goodbye to the rest of the lads and drove along to Dorset for the second half of our trip. A few hours later we arrived in Weymouth, where we would stay for the next three days. After dropping some stuff off at our B&B we fished in the harbour for thin lipped grey mullet using light gear and modified Mepps spinners with a few added beads and a bit of Isome on the hook but the water was very coloured from all the recent rain and we didn't have much joy really.

In the evening we picked up some fresh bait and headed to West Bexington to fish Chesil Beach for Dover sole. Stretching for eighteen miles Chesil Beach is quite spectacular and after trudging along the shingle for a while we reached a spot that looked the same as the rest of the beach. Ross assured me however that he'd fished there before and had caught a lot of fish.

Miles of shingle to our left.
Miles of shingle to our right.

We had soon set up a rod each and cast out our baits into the surf. Things were slow to start with so we got comfortable next to our tripods and waited for bites. Things didn't really pick up until after dark and even then all we caught were tiny pouting, there presence only discovered upon reeling in to check our baits. I also managed a solitary dogfish before we decided to end a frustrating day's fishing and headed back to Weymouth.

Ross diligently watches his surf rod.
A few little pouting took our ragworm baits after dark.

The next day we headed along to Swanage Pier, a venue I really enjoy visiting. Arriving fairly early it was quite a nice day although some rain was forecast for the afternoon. We both fancied catching some Baillon's wrasse but there was always the slim chance of a black faced blenny turning up too if we used small hooks.

Swanage Pier is a great venue for a spot of ultra light tackle mini species fun.

As usual the fish were plentiful and our ragworm didn't stay down long before being taken. Corkwing wrasse were as usual the predominant species but Ross caught a Baillon's wrasse on his third drop. We fished away and after catching a lot more corkwing and ballan wrasse as well as a few other species I caught a small Baillon's wrasse too.

It was good to find out that a few Baillon's wrasse had taken up residence under the pier again. Last year's visit didn't produce any.

In the afternoon the forecast rain started so we sheltered under the upper deck until the worst of it had fallen. More small wrasse, pouting and the odd tompot blenny making up the bulk of our catches.

What a handsome chap.The one with hair that is.

When the rain stopped we decided to bite the bullet and headed further east to Shoreham-by-sea to target Dover sole again.  Setting up on the inside of the western breakwater we both caught a tiny bass each and with not much else happening Ross decided to move to the end of the breakwater. I stayed put and just after the sun set and light started to fade one of my rods registered a small bite. I let it develop and when my rod tip nodded again I lifted the rod and slowly wound in. At first I didn't feel anything but about half way a fish shook a little. Appearing on the surface I could see it was a flatfish. Doubting I could be so lucky, for a second I assumed it was a flounder or plaice, but as it came closer I realised it was a small Dover sole and hastily swung it up the wall.

The sun sets to the west along Shoreham Beach.
My first Dover sole. They are a truly weird looking flatfish. Their mouth in particular is very odd indeed.

I shouted along to Ross and he soon came back along to join me. I let him fish the area where I had caught my fish and switched my attention to fishing on the outside of the breakwater. The next couple of hours saw us both catching a few whiting. Ross also caught a small common eel, another addition to his species hunt tally. Soon it was past the time we had agreed we'd leave but I told Ross I was happy to stay on for an extra hour. By the time the end of this hour approached Ross had three rods out and had declared he'd had his last cast when he got another bite. Reeling it in we both had our head torches pointed down on the water to see what would appear and a long flat fish soon did. Another brief nervous moment followed as he lifted up his first ever Dover sole but it was well hooked and Ross let out a shout of jubilation as his target came to hand.

Ross was over the moon and puckered up to give his Dover sole a kiss. The fish didn't seem quite so happy and undulated away as best it could.

Both very happy with getting a new species we quickly packed up and headed back to the car. The drive directly back to Weymouth took a lot less time than I had anticipated so we got back before midnight and treated ourselves to a celebratory takeaway.

When we got up the next day we decided to begin our final day's fishing by having another go for thin lipped grey mullet in Weymouth Harbour. The water clarity had improved greatly, the tide was in and there seemed to be a lot more fish around. We started off fishing with our modified Mepps baited with Isome but the fish that followed quickly turned away when they got close enough to inspect it. Ross had just made a pin point cast and was still boasting about how accurate it had been when another cast to the same area ended up landing in a small boat and he lost his only Mepps.  I gave him mine as I had a much smaller one in my bag that my lighter rod would still be able to cast. I didn't bother adding any beads but the fish seemed to prefer it that way and I soon had a few more follows. As we carried on fishing I might have been getting more interest but the fish turning away left me rather frustrated so I suggested that we try some of our leftover ragworm from the night before. This proved to be a good choice and I hooked three fish in fairly quick succession only for them all to quickly throw the hook. The ragworm we were using was in a sorry state however so I suggested we pop to the tackle shop and get some fresh ones and a smaller Mepps for Ross to use. This paid off and returning to our spot we both landed a couple of fish after a few casts.

My first ever thin lipped grey mullet. Some fresh ragworm on a modified 00 Mepps proving much more effective than Isome or poor quality worms.
Thin lipped by name.
The space between the gill plates under a thin lipped grey mullet's head is much wider than on its thick lipped cousin.

In the afternoon we spent a few hours targeting mini species further down the harbour. This produced a few wrasse, gobies, blennies, pouting and a solitary juvenile bass.

A nice chunky tompot blenny.

It was easily the nicest day of the trip weather wise and we both got burnt a little by the sun. By midafternoon we were feeling a bit tired so we decided to pack up, got the rest of our things from our B&B and after relaxing for an hour or so begun our journey back up the road. I hadn't reached my targets for the trip of twenty five species including three new ones but I think I would have had we managed to get out on the boat three times as planned. Here's a summary of what I did catch with new species in bold...
  1. Baillon's Wrasse x 1
  2. Ballan Wrasse x 26
  3. Bass x 2
  4. Black Goby x 6
  5. Common Blenny x 2
  6. Corkwing Wrasse x 85
  7. Dover Sole x 1
  8. Goldsinny Wrasse x 14
  9. Greater Weever x 1*
  10. Lesser Spotted Dogfish x 1
  11. Lesser Weever x 12
  12. Mackerel x 15
  13. Pollock x 10
  14. Poor Cod x 2
  15. Pouting x 10
  16. Rock Goby x 2
  17. Sand Goby x 1
  18. Sand Smelt x 22
  19. Thick Lipped Grey Mullet x 1
  20. Thin Lipped Grey Mullet x 2
  21. Tompot Blenny x 7
  22. Whiting x 22
* My first in UK waters.

So, the weather might have forced us to change our plans a few times and had prevented us from targeting some of the species we would have liked to but we made the most of things and overall it was still a great trip to the south coast. It had been great catching up and fishing with Ross again and his mates too on the boat. I guess we'll just have to go back next year for another chance to catch species like brill, grey triggerfish, John Dory and porbeagle sharks.

Tight lines, Scott.

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