Sunday 21 April 2024

The strange and the familiar

Saturday came around again and we had an awkward, middle of the afternoon tide to try and plan around.  In previous seasons we would probably have fished the Steep beach, confident of catching but learning little.  So for the first time in a while we decided to venture forth and try somewhere completely different.  After a journey on different country lanes and some car park confusion we loaded up and tramped down an unfamiliar beach that I will optimistically christen ‘Fukushima’.

The day was bright and pleasant so we knew the Suffolk coast would be busy everywhere and this beach was no exception, despite its foreboding ambience.  We headed to an open patch of shore line close to man made structure and by 1400 I had my usual two rods and rigs, the heavy rod launched and the light rod dropped in close.  High tide was forty five minutes away but I didn’t have to wait long for a bite, the light rod rattled on the first cast but I didn’t hook up.  I had another bite on the same rod a short while later but this didn’t develop into anything strike-able.

By this time the tide turned and the sea was starting to get further away.  Giles was doing a little better than me and had managed a couple of decent sized Whiting but my rod tips weren’t doing much that couldn’t be attributed to the waves and a brisk south westerly wind.  A good hour had passed since Giles’ last fish before the tip of my light rod did something different, and kept doing it.  I wound down and yes there was a fishy resistance but this was long and snake like, my first Eel of the year.  A short while later the same rod fluttered again but nothing developed.  I wound in to check the bait and something felt fishy, then after a bit of winding skipped something small, flat and round across the waves.  Another first for the year, a tiny Turbot of all things which was interesting due to its rarity.  After that the bites dried up and the highlight was seeing a Porpoise breach a few times but this was a long way off shore.

We fished the tide all the way down by which time it was dark but I didn’t see anything on my rod tips to get me excited and Giles didn’t do any better.  The decision to pack up and head for home was an easy one.  Fishing somewhere different had been a good idea and although we could only count up four bites each, we’d learnt a lot and had a good idea how we might approach things on a different day, when other species might have ventured closer to shore.

The working week crawled by but eventually my days off arrived. These started lazily, mooching around the house, tinkering with tackle but mostly clock watching. I left home a little after 1600, flying solo towards what has become my favourite beach and I couldn’t help feeling confident. High tide was due at 2302 and I’d be fishing it all the way up in what seemed pretty good conditions. The day had been a mixture of cloud and clear, sunny spells that had become more prolonged as the day had gone on. The day was cold though with a fresh wind from the north but I figured my spot would be well sheltered. I’d be fishing the best part of the tide on a beach I knew can produce plenty of Rays, it looked like everything had fallen into place. What could possibly go wrong?

The drive on narrowing lanes is never a fast one and once I’d parked I loaded up my kit in double quick time and set off through the scrub.  My tracking senses spied twin grooves in the sand, the alarm bells rang – surely that’s a beach anglers trolly but was it coming or going?  Sod’s law dictated there’d be an angler right where I wanted to sit and sure enough there were two of them.  No worries, I walked to the right but as I turned I saw another angler crossing the beach, thankfully there was plenty of room for both of us.  Setting up I felt unsettled, this is as busy as I’d seen this beach and I hope it doesn’t become the new normal.

I had two rods fishing by 1715 and as usual hurled a big bait out on the heavy rod and used a two hook set up on the other.  However today I was using size 2 hooks with small baits hoping I might pick up a flat fish of some variety.  With the rods out I didn’t waste time getting the shelter up, respite from the wind was essential tonight.  The sky was now clear and bright, visibility good with a view of the endless line of ships heading for Felixstowe and on the horizon, “Sealand” – a relic from war defences now another man’s realm.  People have lived here for as long as I can remember and what once seemed weird now doesn’t seem such a bad idea.

By 1745 all was ready and for once organised as I’d baited up a load of rigs so it was time to sit back with a cuppa and relax.  I sat watching the sea which looked mostly flat out where the heavier lead was landing but this was deceiving as big waves were crashing onto the beach from time to time.  I noticed the flat sea was lumpier than I first thought as slow moving bars of water rolled towards me and it was these that brought the crashing waves.  When these waves broke the retreating water seemed to be sucked back much further than normal and the beach itself was being scoured.  This unusual pattern stayed the same all night, periods of relative calm broken up by a few minutes of crash, roar and tumble then calm again for a couple of minutes.

I expected it to be slow to begin with so wasn’t worried that this was the case but the longer we go without a bite the more the mind starts to play tricks, when the first bite of the night comes it changes everything.  This came at 1900, a definite pull down on the light rod resulted in a small Dogfish.  I recast this rod then decided to check the other and wound in another small dog.  This rod had was barely back on the tripod and I’d hardly sat down before the light rod was wobbling again, I’d now had three Dogs in fifteen minutes.  While this was going on three more anglers had hiked across the shingle and were heading to the left; seven anglers on the beach tonight, what is going on?  The hooklengths on the lighter rod were now coming back tangled which is a sign of fishing in turbulent water so I changed for another pulley rig with a bigger bait which I was able to cast a bit further and beyond the commotion.

After that brief flurry the bites stopped and the tips didn’t show anything to get excited about for well over an hour.  In this time the fading daylight had accelerated into full darkness and I’d clipped the tip lights onto the rod tips.  As we’ve come to expect darkness brought the fish in and the tips started to rattle once more.  I didn’t get any hectic periods - the bites came steadily and all were similar; a rattle followed by a sharp downward pull but tonight the tip didn’t stay down or fly back slack so at no time did I expect to find myself attached to a Ray.  I missed a few bites but managed to bring four more dogfish up the beach, a couple of which were quite big, all the fish I caught tonight took squid.

Time seems to speed up once it gets dark which is strange as there isn’t much to look at apart from the glowing tip lights.  There was no sound other than the boom and crash of the waves, even the rush of shingle being dragged back seemed amplified.  If the noise had been this loud at Fukushima beach last week I’d have been very nervous.  High tide came and went as did my energy so I gave it ‘one last cast’ then tidied my kit away.  I always leave the rods till last but this time it didn’t help me catch an extra fish, then again it rarely does.  The drive home on quiet roads was kind of relaxing with “the dream canteen” on the stereo and as much as I’d enjoyed the fishing it hadn’t gone at all as I’d expected.  Before I left home I’d have put money on myself to catch a Ray but it hadn’t happened and I’d been reminded I should never take these things for granted.

Friday 12 April 2024

Grumpy Sunday, Happy Monday

Sunday morning, the Princess had grim news, my presence was required at a garden centre; “I need your input – we’ll just get what we want and come home…”  on balance this particularly sadistic form of torture was marginally preferable to the grief I’d have got had I refused.

Things didn’t bode well, the Princess was driving which is an experience I never enjoy but something I’ve gotten used to over the years.  The outing went awry from the start, instead of turning left and going to the garden centre a couple of miles down the road we turned right and headed for another one which was several miles in the other direction.  ‘Several’ miles became even more because the Princess just cannot drive in a straight line.  Yes she keeps the car within the lines but hers is a meandering course that likes to use the extremities of the lane.  The most direct route involved a single track country lane but ‘most direct’ doesn’t necessarily mean quickest.

We arrived at the dreaded garden centre to find the car park was rammed, in fact there were no spaces left.  There would have been plenty of room had the other users managed to use a bit of common sense and at least park straight.  Had I been behind the wheel I would have just driven away at this point but after a slow circuit and a couple of seven point turns we found a space that must have been just vacated, I’m not sure if I was pleased at this point?  I suppose the alternative would have been to drive to another fucking garden centre, at least when the car next started we would be heading home.  But before that blessed relief we had the main ordeal itself to contend with.

We were squeezed next to a crisp white sporty Range Rover thing.  These motors should not be clean and white, they are off road vehicles for fuck sake, they should be dark green and mud splattered.  Be real, that was Suffolk a lifetime ago, nowadays these motors are bought to impress others and are usually driven by a tiny, lone female.  The next car over was a vintage sports car of some description, I’m not sure what kind but its owner wore a tee shirt that said ‘Jensen’ in big letters so if I was a gambling man…  Either way it was an unsuitable vehicle to be weighing down with bags of fertilizer which was what Mr Jensen is doing.  But it was the first sunny Sunday of the year so all the soft tops and big motorcycles were bound to be out.

Into the labyrinth of rooms and spaces; (why are garden centres like this?  Random collections of dilapidated barns linked by rattling Perspex) there was very little here that I understood but it was a subject I’d strived to avoid all my life.  Small clusters of slow moving elderly people created hazards in the rows and reminded me of Pacman ghosts, I realised we were the youngest people in the building.  Despite the bursting car park there didn’t seem to be that many people around, where were they all?  Was there something fun going on somewhere in one of these random buildings?  Any curiosity I had was stifled by reminding myself that this was a garden centre, fun is not on the agenda, this was not a place where I belonged.

After a double circuit of the warren we chanced upon the item we set out for and quickly gathered it up.  The Princess could read the signs and knew it was time to steer me homeward before I done “something inappropriate and embarrassing…  We headed into the final building, the last bottleneck where they squeeze the cash out of us before we are allowed to escape.  But there was no one behind the counter.  We waited.  Then we waited some more.  The till area was unguarded as was the office, door wide open with computers and a handbag in plain sight.  I managed to resist the temptation for mischief.  After a while a member of staff appeared with an octogenarian customer in tow, while he flapped around the absentee returned all apologies and we eventually made our escape.

The drive home was on more country lanes, single track with passing spaces which can lead to some questionable driving but it wasn’t so bad today.  We passed a day ticket fishery, a couple of acres of admittedly quite pretty farm pond but it’s full of horrible ghostly carp and I could see anglers everywhere with another rammed car park.  That is not angling, no way and if that was all that was available I really wouldn’t bother.


My weekend plans to fish an evening tide had been thwarted by strong winds so here I sat, early Monday morning, facing the rising sun in calmer conditions.  I was wondering if two days of stormy weather would have stirred things up and the big Rays would be on the feed?  Despite the onshore breeze the sea was fairly flat and with a bit of cloud stopping the day becoming too bright everything looked about as good as it could get?  I fished my normal heavy rod/light rod and kept to the rigs I usually use.  Both sailed out nicely and gripped so the two rod tips had a nice curve.  All I needed was a fish.

One hundred yards to the south was Mr K, an old mate of long standing and he started fast with a couple of small bass on ragworm.  Shortly after that I heard a shout and looked up to see him standing up with a seriously bent rod, I picked up scales and camera and jogged down the beach in time to see a cracking big Ray of 7-12 flap up the slope.  This was a new PB so Mr K was chuffed as nuts and a few minutes later he added a second Ray which was about half the size though still a decent fish.

Back behind my rods I was starting to have my doubts, time was passing and starting to speed up, so far I still hadn’t had so much as a rattle.  I was using tried and tested methods on a beach I was familiar with, I expected to catch but it just wasn’t happening.  At times like this we start to second guess ourselves and get weird ideas but I told myself I just had to stick to what I was doing and the fish would come.  Another shout to my right, Mr K was dragging a third ray up the beach.  With a mate catching fish and my tips static the weird ideas started to crowd my brain again!  Around 0920 I wound in the light rod and was surprised to find a funny little flat fish had hooked itself on a strip of mackerel.  This creature was brown on one side, white on the other and almost transparent which makes it a Dab I believe?  Ah well, it had taken almost three hours but I’d caught a fish, the blank was avoided so now I could be happy sitting on a quiet beach on a pleasant morning watching my mate hammer the fish!

I hadn’t managed to recast the light rod before I looked up to see the heavy rod had slackened off and I was on my feet at a speed that surprised me.  I had to wind down a fair way before I felt the fish and for a few seconds I dragged a decent weight towards the shore but then it all went solid and no amount of heavy hauling would shift it.  I slackened off and put the rod back in the tripod for a few minutes.  The rod started to bend over and I thought this might have done the trick but this may have just been the tide taking up the slack as it was still solid.  Eventually the leader gave way and what was on the end I’ll never know although my money would be on a decent ray…

Despite this setback I still felt confident, the bites had started right on cue, exactly when I’d predicted they would to Mr K and I was sure I’d get another chance.  I switched the light rod to a bigger hook and a small whole squid and punched this out before retackling the heavy rod.  At 1005 it was the light rod that yanked over and I was soon doing battle again.  This time I kept the lump of fish moving, it didn’t get bogged down and after a tug of war in the surf I hauled a decent Ray onto the beach, greeted by a cheer from Mr K.  I’d barely recast this rod before the heavy rod fell slack again and I was soon winching back another decent weight.  It was no surprise to see a second, smaller ray come flapping onto the beach, that’s more like it!

In the next half an hour I had bites on both rods and landed three decent sized Dogfish and while that was going on Mr K beached a Whiting, a dog and two more Rays.  Then the fish just switched off and it went quiet on all rods.  Just after 1100 we met in the middle for a brief chat and decided ‘one more cast’ but still the rod tips remained still.  I started to tidy up and wound in the light rod to find a crab had impaled itself.  Around 1130 I had nothing left to tidy up so was forced to wind in the heavy rod and bugger me there was a decent weight on the end which I pumped all the way back to the breakers before it thumped once and came off.  Maybe another Ray but then again…

The hike back to the cars is always taxing and had us puffing, it was a relief to onload the kit then two broad grins broke out, today was a Happy Monday.