Sunday 20 September 2020

The Cruel Sea

We couldn’t resist, we just had to get down to the beach once more before the change in seasons, one last attempt to catch some Bass, Rays, Smoothound or whatever.  I’d made the decision to put the old and barely functioning Intrepid reel into retirement, relegating it to a spare once again. I’d splashed out and replaced it with a modern Mitchell surf caster meaning I’d be fighting the new tackle curse I’d so far avoided.   Also after rooting through the shed I managed to bodge a tripod out of a vintage carpy one made by Delareed that hadn’t seen daylight since the eighties. I managed to extend the legs thanks to some aluminium tubes I found in the garden.  These came from some kind of lightweight mini greenhouse thing that wasn’t being used, so far no one has noticed.  Some of the crap I’ve been unwilling to dump over the years is proving its worth but there will be loads more stuff that I really should just bin.  On another warm evening I sat in the garden and spent some time constructing a pulley rig and tied a few hooklengths, I also added reflective tape to the rod tips to aid bite indication after dark. 

Leading up to the day everything looked rosy, a dry sunny day with a light easterly breeze, another idyllic evening but with twenty four hours to go the forecast ramped the wind speed up.  Apparently a strong east wind would be straight into our chops but this didn’t matter, we’d be going anyway, confident of catching a bag of fish having got this sea fishing lark well sussed out now.

Giles, Rich and I assembled at the car park around 1400 then trudged across the shingle towards the sea which at first glance looked inhospitable to say the least, big and grey and angry with white capped waves and a roar of shifting stones.  This didn’t put us off, we’d just have to use bigger leads, ignorance is bliss.  Already on the beach were two friends, Trev and Craig who, although they wouldn’t describe themselves as serious fishermen, were certainly more experienced off the beach than we were.  In fact Trev had already caught a small Cod (yes a Cod!) and a Whiting so things were looking good, until we turned to face the sea.  A twenty mile an hour Easterly on a lake or broad is one thing, here it was something else entirely.

We walked on in order to give the lads some space as it was obvious even to us that leads and lines would be getting shifted.  I had arrived with a plan which I stubbornly tried to put into action.  A whole squid was hooked onto a Pennell rig then in turn attached to a Pulley rig before being hurled into the boiling grey stuff.  With this rod I wanted to fish at longer range with a bigger bait hoping for a big fish but into the wind the splash didn’t look very far out at all.  My second rod was the old carp rod again on which I hoped to fish a running leger and a long hooklength.  This I intended to bait with Ragworm and drop in close hoping for a Bass however it only took one cast for me to realise the set up was hopelessly inadequate for the conditions.  The wind was forecast to ease through the afternoon so I scrapped the light rod for the time being.  Giles and Richard were fishing and faring a little better than me, at least managing to keep two rods going.

So we sat back to relax and enjoy the fishing.  Despite the wind the temperature was pleasant enough and we were comfortable staring at the bouncing rod tips but would we ever be able to tell a bite?  Evidently Trev could as he soon added an Eel and a Bass to his tally making it four different species and Craig had managed a couple of Whiting.  Giles, Rich and I had all attempted to fish the long trace running rig on one rod but Giles had been on Google and constructed some impressive and complicated multi hook rigs for his second whilst Rich was sticking to his tried and trusted paternoster.  Recasts were regular as the wind and tide kept shifting everything southwards.  Whether it was this bouncing along the sea bed, fish or crabs that were mangling our baits we were too inexperienced to know but we kept at it.  Giles was particularly keen, standing facing the blast holding his rod and touch legering for a time, hoping to spot a bite.  Me and Rich just sat looking at the tips, hoping a fish would hang itself so obviously that we’d know. 

Then we heard a shout and it seemed Giles’ perseverance had paid off as he winched his multi hook rig up the beach with two small Whiting attached but he confessed he hadn’t seen the bite and was as surprised as we were.  Despite my friends success I didn’t feel the slightest bit confident of actually catching something today, I was simply going through the motions.  Later in the afternoon a drop in the wind allowed me to get my second rod fishing at close range and I was pleased my improvised tripod was holding up much better than I ever thought it would or could.  For a while it looked like the weather was calming down and getting the sea seemed more manageable, for an hour or so the evening promised to be comfortable.

Just before dark Trev treated everyone to barbecue cooked burgers which went down a storm but as we fed so it seemed the fish had stopped.  We’d been expecting the wind to abate with darkness but if anything it had got worse again and as the tide rose up the beach the waves became ever larger.  We had also been told to expect hordes of Whiting after dark but this didn’t happen either.  I’d been recasting my close range rod often, on several occasions retrieving to find my bait had gone.  The reflective tape I’d put on the rod tips worked a treat but if anything tonight it made it obvious that the lighter rod was in constant motion and I couldn’t possibly have a clue if I had a bite.  I had to concede defeat and pack that one away for the evening, concentrating on the one rod might give me a chance?

Our first two trips on the beach had been idyllic and the conditions had made the mechanics of the fishing easy for us but tonight we were way out of our depth.  I certainly had neither the experience nor equipment to feel like I was fishing effectively, a good reminder that I am a novice and have a lot to learn about beach fishing.  Tonight I was learning that there will be times when I need heavier leads and a stiffer rod or maybe I should seek more sheltered water in one of the estuaries when the weather is rough?

One by one the other lads packed up and bid us farewell until it was just me and Giles left on the beach, ‘one last cast’ or so we said.  It struck me just how loud the crash of waves and the shifting shingle was, we almost had to shout to be heard.  By now I was fishing half a bluey on the Pennell/Pulley rig and the tip was bent and nodding rhythmically.  I remarked to Giles that I hadn’t seen a definite bite all evening then shortly after my tip banged and slackened off, surely that was a bite?  I wound down and yes there was definitely a weight on the end that required me to pump it back towards me.  I was expecting to wind in weed or Giles’ line but no something long and fishy was wriggling up the beach.  Was that an Eel?  No it was a Dogfish!  But it was somehow foul hooked in the belly, though the sliding hook had moved a foot so it may have been hooked fairly at some point?  It doesn’t matter, I’d seen the bite and experienced the thrill of hauling something unknown onto the beach in the dark.  The dogfish was soon back in the sea wondering what the fuck had just happened.  We gave it one last cast, then one more but neither of us managed to catch anything else by fair means or foul.

This evening had been a totally different experience to our previous trips.  In fact sitting in the dark being blasted by the wind and not having a clue if I was seeing bites was much more like my childhood experiences of beach fishing.  I enjoyed it but it enforced for me that it isn’t the kind of beach fishing I want to do.  Am I a fair weather sea fisherman?  I plead guilty as charged but with renewed respect for the enthusiasts for which the cold, dark and rough sea is normal.  Tonight it was good to shut the car door and block it all out.  But come spring I will be back!