All at Sea
Welchy joins the FishActive team in search of black bream aboard the Spirit of Arun
Tope fishing with Steve Younger off the Norfolk coast. We had enjoyed a brilliant meal the night before, during which I had to concede that north Norfolk oysters were indeed the best in the world. Sadly they were not quite so pleasant coming back up the following morning.
It had been fine motoring out, even catching the mackerel bait wasn’t too bad despite a bit of pitching and yawing but by the time we had motored out to the tope hunting grounds, put out some rubby dubby and were preparing the flappers I was feeling distinctly queasy and within the hour I was hanging over the gunwales with Steve telling me to watch out for the paintwork as he photographed several platefuls of seafood returning home slightly the worse for the night spent in my stomach.
I rallied a little late in the afternoon as we moved closer inshore but it was not at all pleasant.
Cod fishing off Brighton with Team Fox. I had only eaten lightly the evening before and breakfast had just been toast and Marmite washed down with coffee. Again motoring out was fine but by the time Bob Nudd and Chilly were hauling cod like it was going out of fashion I was puking my guts over the back of the boat and, apart from the odd sleep curled in the foetal position on the deck, that is exactly what I did for the remaining six hours.
It was pure hell but I rallied just enough very late on to take enough pictures to write a feature.
Black bream fishing off Littlehampton with Team FishActive. I guess most people would ask the question “Why on earth do you keep getting back on a boat when you ALWAYS get seasick?”
Fair point and anyone who suffers from ‘mal de mer’ will tell you that it is one of the worst feelings in the world. It’s not life threatening but at times, as you suffer, you wish it was simply to put an end to it...and of course the fact that everyone else on board is happily going about their business and getting on with their fishing doesn’t help; as doesn’t the bright spark, and there is always one, who tells you that Admiral Lord Nelson was also a sufferer...
The truth is I keep going back because I just love sea fishing; in fact I love it more than I do most types of coarse fishing. Most especially I love fishing for bass, tope, smoothhounds, black bream and mullet on really light gear and, with the exception of mullet, to get the best from light gear fishing for the aforementioned species you usually need to be afloat.
This time around I was lured by many things. First off were the black bream themselves, a species which is serious fun on light gear and, as one of my favourite fish to eat, even more fun under the grill. There was also the fact that it was a company day out and I would be representing the FishActive website as it played host to the winners of a caption competition. Thirdly, the boat was the ‘Spirit of Arun’ out of Littlehampton which has a reputation second to none along this part of the south coast and the chance to get on board her is never to be turned down.
The day itself did not have an auspicious start as I opened the curtains to look out on yet another morning of sheeting rain but by the time I met up with the some of the team in the Dinky Doo Diner (yes, really) on the seafront it had cleared and the forecast was promising.
I watched as Paul and Simon tucked into sausage and egg butties and contented myself with just a cup of tea. I had been recommended some Australian travel sickness pills which were supposed to be pretty hot and along with an early morning bowl of porridge to provide a little stomach ballast that would be my lot, although I had brought along a packed lunch; totally in expectation of bringing it home again...
I had also taken a bit of advice from a few mates on Facebook. Some of the responses to my ‘Any remedies?’ query were perhaps best avoided but others such as staying busy, not staring too long at any one thing, keeping body sugar up were eminently sensible.
On board the ‘Spirit’ introductions were duly made and skippers Neil and Mick gave us a brief talk before we headed out to the Kingsmere Rocks, a large area of rough, broken ground that forms one of the most important spawning grounds for black bream in northern Europe.
As far as the fishing was concerned the news was mixed; the cool weather had meant the bream had not yet spawned and as such the fishing was likely to be slow and the bites finicky – they really have it big time in a post-spawning binge! On the positive side they would at least be big and because of high winds no boats had been out for several days.
Recommended gear was light sea rods with 15 – 20lb line 3 to 4oz leads and 1/0 hooks but that’s really not my thing when fishing for a species which is mostly in the 2 to 3lb range with a 5lb specimen exceptional, so I set up a lot lighter than everyone else with a 1.5lb barbel rod, 8lb line and a 2oz lead; bait was a couple of strips of squid to a size 4 Aberdeen on a 4ft 8lb hooklength.
The skipper’s predictions were spot on as the bites were finicky, in fact for me they were non-existent to start with' but MacNab Media Deputy Chairman Richard Hewitt showed us how it should be done with the first fish and eventually I struck into my first half decent pull – which resulted in a garfish...
I eventually found a few more bites by casting a little further behind the boat and eventually the black bream began to come with everyone getting amongst the fish, especially FishActive prize winner Neil Chalkley, a seasoned sea angler, who had the gear to be able to hold station at a range behind the boat the rest of us couldn’t quite reach.
The bites were not always easy to hit and very chub-like in their quality with a few small taps sometimes followed by a solid pull and at other times not, giving the bait a tweak helped, as it sometimes does with chub, and it was exciting fishing; I kept the rod in my hand at all times feeling for bites and concentrating 100%.
I managed to get the hang of it after a while and then got into a few of the better fish by switching over to a mackerel strip and squid cocktail.
As I tucked into my third slice of salmon and spinach quiche at around lunchtime it suddenly dawned on me that not only was I having great fun but I had also not been sick, in fact I felt bloody marvellous and with excellent company and some great banter it was turning into one of the best day’s fishing I had enjoyed in a long time but all that was about to change dramatically... for the better!
Skipper Neil had said that one of us might just hook into a smoothhound during the course of the day and when I had a bite which literally ripped the rod out of my hands and took off on a hugely powerful run against a tightly set clutch I realised that’s exactly what I had done.
The next ten minutes were great fun and I saw a barbel rod bent into angles from which it should have never recovered - but recover it did and I was more than a little pleased when Neil eventually scooped a nice double into the net – a far better workout than any double figure barbel had given the kit that was for sure. I have caught bigger smuts on stepped up carp gear and indeed on bass rods but this was the first I had caught one on quite such light tackle and I can wholeheartedly recommend the experience!
Despite the fact the fishing had been a little slow we still put the thick end of 40 bream in the boat along with the smoothie, several gars and a few pout and I, and I suspect all of us, was more than a little disappointed when Neil said we had to head for home.
Neil Chalkley very kindly did the honours with the filleting knife on the way back and the trip was finished off perfectly that evening with a whole fish well seasoned, stuffed with tarragon, garlic, spring onion and lemon, drizzled with a little olive oil and gently baked in a foil parcel.
Green salad, glass of Chablis, cheers FishActive, Neil and Mick it was the best fishing trip of the year so far for me and it will have to be a bit special to beat that all season – unless I can somehow get back on the Spirit for a day’s bass fishing because, on the quiet, they are more than a little handy at that!
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