A Handmaiden’s Progress
Leonie Jones refuses to sit back and be a fishing widow... in fact for her it's a case of wanting to do it every bit as good - in fact better - than the boys!
It was clear from the start that if I wanted to see my boyfriend Mark during daylight hours I was going to have to take up fishing, or at least pretend to be vaguely interested in it. He has a serious addiction to bass fishing and an overwhelming adoration for his Ocean Kayak, which is at times slightly worrying. Apart from me (I hope) it seems to be the only thing he thinks about.
For a few months after we first got together I had quite a few weekends sitting on the rocks watching him fish and it was pretty dull; the ragworms stank, it was cold, and as far as I could tell it all seemed like a lot of sitting around.
As men go, Mark is quite good about the equality of the sexes question. He’s learned to put the loo seat down, and puts the top back on the toothpaste. He still likes to have tea brought to him in bed, but he does at least know how to cook a proper curry and he irons his own shirts. Still, he is a man, and men can get a bit feisty about being up-staged. Having served my jail-time on the beach I think I’m now almost as keen on fishing as he is. And I’ll tell you something - it’s getting a bit competitive. And maybe that’s understandable, because after all who wants to see a girl half your size catch fish bigger than you do?!
There are certain aspects of fishing that, as a girl, take some getting used to – pulling ragworm in half to release the juices to attract the bass, or threading smelly sea-weedy maggots onto hooks to lure the wrasse isn’t a natural pastime even for the most outdoorsy of girls. Perhaps that’s why, for the time being, I’m into lures.
According to the boys, lures are pieces of unparalleled Japanese engineering, they pop, they roll, and they wiggle through the water: for me it’s more instinctive. As a girl and a lover of all things that sparkle, the shinier the lure the more I want it, and that attraction seems to go for the bass too, so when I’m shopping for lures I do read the blurb and watch the online videos of the lure being played through the swimming pool, but really I’m more interested in how much it’s going to glint and sparkle under the water. So far it’s working. My favourite lure, and the one that I’m going to be using the most next week in Cuba, is my IMA Popkey which is a fantastic lure. It’s a sort of hybrid, because it’s not a popper but it certainly sits pretty shallow under the surface. It is really easy to make it do what I have heard described as a ‘walking the dog’ motion so it’s great for beginners like me because it makes me look a lot better than I am at using lures!
My dad told me that more people in the UK fish than play football. That fact amazes me but on reflection I can well believe it. There is nothing more relaxing than casting out across the water and waiting for the fish to bite, and there is little more exhilarating than the little tug-tug on your line as the fish takes your lure followed by the hot and sweaty battle as you play it in. In a kitchen-female sort of way I’m also waiting excitedly to see just how big our supper is going to be.
Last summer Mark wrote an article on his Ocean Kayak, and shortly afterwards I convinced him to allow me to be a stow-away in its storage area when he was hunting for bass. I used to think that his obsession with his kayak - which I think that he likes even more than his Porshe - was a bit geeky, but that was until I caught a lift on it. It really is a brilliant thing. It’s incredibly stable, even when crossing the mouth of the harbour surrounded by speed-boats and jet skis flying past, it just cuts through the water. We were both able to fish off it without any problems, and even when we landed the last bass of the summer the kayak barely moved.
The problem now is that I really want my own. Mark’s brother Jonathan is also looking to get one so I’m slightly afraid that they’re going to gang up together and try to tell me that the Ocean Kayaks are boys’ toys – but that argument won’t wash with me. I’m made of sterner stuff. I really want my own one so that I can head out across Poole Harbour to Shell Bay and up to Harry’s Rocks and get in on the bass action. I don’t want to be left on the beach watching the boys have all the fun. If you’re reading this Mark, it’s my birthday soon, and I’d like an Ocean Kayak Prowler 13. You see, I don’t mind if your kayak is bigger than mine.
So I’ve got the kayak religion. I do ‘get it’ that to get out to where the fish are, and as a platform from which to fish, the kayak is just perfect around our coasts. But I have to admit one little truth - I caught my first fish from aboard a pedallo on our last trip to Cuba last September.
This was before I was really into fishing, but I can still remember just how good it felt to get that first bite. It was from a ferocious little monster called a ‘chiwilli’. I haven’t been able to identify the English name for this vicious little fish but it was certainly easy enough to catch one. It was a small fish but it had a lot of needle-sharp teeth. These chiwilli swam right in along the shore line, and after I saw its dental-work I did not swim in the water again.
I was using a Rattlin’ Rapala lure which, although looking pretty old-school compared to some of the new IMA and Shimano lures, is a classic little lure with a seductive rattle. The chiwilli went mad for it and as soon as one fish was released from the hook another one would bite. They were so violent that getting them off the hook was quite terrifying. It took a deep breath and a steady hand. Bigger fish will be quite ‘interesting’ if the have the same homicidal inclinations.
Part of your duty as a girlfriend to a fishing-mad man is to watch fishing programmes on Sky. Initially I found this rather boring and I tried to convince him to watch ‘chick-flicks’ instead. Unsurprisingly, he refused. But he did get me watching River Monsters and Fishing Warrior and I have to admit, these programmes are awesome. Watching them makes me want to quit the 9 to 5 and head straight out to some exotic locations and start hunting. Having seen the fish these guys have been catching I’m beginning to get a little nervous about our next trip to Cuba.
There is a mangrove swamp out the back of the hotel, and the lure that Mark is taking to use, a Rooster Popper, is bigger than most of the fish I’ve ever caught. We’ve seen some HUGE fish in that lagoon. I also read that there are crocodiles in Cuba. I’ve been assured that these are only found in one lake, but tell me this - how do they know that one didn’t escape in the night and is now lurking under a mangrove branch waiting for a me to skip down to the water’s edge in my board shorts and bikini, completely unaware that I’m about to be eaten for breakfast?!
One thing is for sure, we’re going prepared to catch some monsters: Shimano Beastmaster rods, huge lures, and some seriously thick braid. Mark’s dad, John, has taught us to tie the strongest knots known to man and we’ve watched every episode of every fishing programme ever made about Cuba. So, I think I’m ready to catch something big now. I just hope that there is also a little bit of time for sitting by the pool with a mojito.
And Mark, just in case I’ve failed to mention it before - I want my own kayak.