Tuesday, 8 January 2013

I've always loved water.

I’ve always loved water! Ponds, rivers, lakes the sea, in it, on it or under it doesn’t really matter.  I’m also equally fascinated by those things that choose to make it their home. I’m sure my love for all things watery comes partly from my father who from an early age introduced me to the local rivers and sea, teaching me to fish and swim.
Fast-forward thirty years and I find myself combining primitive urge to gather/hunt with my love of being on the water in the form of kayak fishing. I purchased a 13 foot Ocean Kayak Prowler from Mitch and the team at AS water sports some 7 years ago. This was when they were fairly new on the scene and an insatiable addiction lasted for several years. It has to be said kayak fishing was in its infancy then and thus for me it was a solitary pursuit. I spent the vast majority of the time developing skills and techniques through trial and error on the North Coast of Devon. Prior to owning the Prowler (affectionately now known as the Growler) I used to spend a great deal of time lure fishing for Bass from the rocks. The growler opened up the coast exposing all those spots I had previously been unable to access. It has to be said to great success!

So over the years the growler has taken a beating, dragged over barnacle encrusted rock outcrops, dropped from great heights, blood stained and still she is as seaworthy as she has always been. Perhaps now even more so as I have now decked her out with various new toys! Including a hummingbird fish finder 385cxi, an anchor trolley system and a Scotty rod mount.
After this summer (if you can call it that!) of poor weather and less favourable conditions for spear fishing I found myself getting an urge to get out on the Growler once more. So one Saturday in late September the growler and I set off for a day’s fishing off the South East coast of Devon. Conditions looked okay sunny, good visibility and a steady 12-15 mph South Westerly with little change forecast. A little bumpy but manageable for someone eager as I! My plan for the day was to target Bass. Has to be said one of my favourite fish aesthetically as well as taste wise. I wanted to use a technique I was taught in New Zealand, this involves free lining live bait, In this case a freshly caught Mackerel.
 So firstly  get out into some deeper water catch some Mackerel, keep them alive, high tail it back closer to shore searching for some rough ground or structure (using the fish finder) then drift over free lining the live bait. Simple....... nothing is ever simple at sea!
So I set my two rods with trusty feathers into their rod holders and started purposely paddling out to sea. I guess I was a good mile offshore when I must have disturbed a large garfish on the surface that proceeded to jump, into the air tossing and flipping like a miniature marlin landing straight between my legs!! Needless to say this is not an everyday occurrence and one that would not be healthy for anyone of a nervous disposition or suffering from angina! I nearly jumped out the boat in shock. Said garfish flipped and flapped almost giving me a slap in the face as it exited out the other side of the boat back to his briny home! Once I had resumed my composure I set about the task of catching the mackerel. Not long had passed before the tell tale violent nodding of the rod indicated I was in. I reeled in two good size fish. I worked quickly trying to unhook the fish without causing too much damage, popped one fish onto the free line set up and the other into the bucket.  I needed some more fish for bait just in case! I continued to drift feathering for all I was worth. Within a short time I heard a familiar sound. My head snapped around just in time to see two young porpoise swimming by about 10ft off my port side! Even thought I was completely alone I found myself talking out loud as if someone was with me “Well would you look at that” then embarrassingly I started making what I thought were enticing dolphin like noises (thinking back these are more akin to dying sea lion!) These beautiful animals seemed interested and spent some time cruising around the Growler! However I definitely was not catching any fish with these fella’s hanging around!      


 I had drifted some distance by then and needed to get going as the tide was against me. I headed off paddling purposefully towards the shore and area I wanted to fish. It was a hard paddle and this was hindered by catching another line full of mackerel that helpfully tangled themselves into knotty mass that only frenetic Mackerel can. By the time I had sorted this lot out I had drifted back to almost where I had set off! Eventually I arrived somewhat red faced and blowing hard at the mark, I could see from the fish finder that the reef underneath me was littered with large boulders and kelp, great hiding places for the elusive Bass. I paddled up tide of the reef and set about setting my live baits. Once I had paid out the right amount of line, no weight and a good 7ft heavy monofilament trace, I slowly drifted back over the reef.  While drifting I kept a steady eye on the structure on the sea floor so as not to get snagged up on any large boulders

This is what kayak fishing is all about for me, the anticipation the wait, not knowing if or when, being completely absorbed and immersed in the elements. All of this and the need for constant concentration and tweaking of equipment enables you to completely disengage from your everyday pressures and worries, it focuses the mind.  I digress!
After several drifts I paddled back up the reef for one more drift. By this time I was well overdue a coffee and a sandwich. Just as poured my coffee the clutch on my reel screamed off! The end of the rod nodded hard bent over with the tip touching the water! I spat half the coffee over me buoyancy aid and slung the rest as I desperately scrabbled for my rod. I tightened the clutch and struck trying to drive the hook home. Adrenaline pumping I started to reel in. This was a good fish! It made another dash for freedom and took more line even with the clutch being tightened. However I started to gain ground and despite her best efforts she was now close to the boat. I craned hoping for a glimpse then I saw the back and swirl of a beautiful fish, I hooted with excitement. She must have seen the boat and decided that this was it death or glory and made her final bid for freedom. The rod tip bent double, I didn’t want to test my knots and line too much! So I eased the clutch giving line. This was it what I had worked hard for all day possibly a double figure fish, a fish of a lifetime! Then NOTHING! The line went dead, limp, I reeled in, the hook was there the fish was not! B*****R! Joy to despondency in 2 seconds flat.
Staring in disbelief I realized that patience is a pre requisite to being a successful fisherman. Now even more determined knowing that there were fish around I plucked my next most lively mackerel and attached him to the line heading back up the reef for another drift. A shiver passed over me and it suddenly dawned on me how late it was getting. The light was starting to fade and the temperature drop, I had been out for 6 hrs.

Well, one more drift and home I thought. Just as hope was fading lady luck smiled on me and as I reached the end of the reef the reel sang out again. Like before I struck, harder this time setting the hook. This time it held and after she gave a good account for herself the battle was won. I felt this fish was smaller than the previous but after some swift gaffing a magnificent 8lb bass lay safely between my legs.

I often feel guilty about taking such a magnificent fish but this fish would be feeding family and friends the following weekend so felt she had gone to a good cause. ‘Tight Lines’ as a certain TV personality used to say!
Matt Ashford.