Boat or Shore?
Stop Pillaging our Seas!There was a time when I used to do a lot of boat fishing and I loved every minute of it. Stuck at work all week, it was what made my weekends really enjoyable, out with a few friends in a boat, escaping the madness that we call civilisation. The whole atmosphere of it all, salt-spray in the nostrils, pitching and rolling through the swell, a certain feeling of anticipation as we motored to distant marks over the horizon, marks that only our skipper knew and that were bound to be crammed full of fish - at least that is what I wanted to believe.
Each trip usually started the same: The skipper would motor round the mark with the echo-sounder on, drop the hook and allow the boat to drift back in the tide a little. Meanwhile out on deck we'd bait up then anxiously wait for the nod from the skipper, giving us the "all-clear" to lower the tackle down into the depths. Usually within five minutes or so, one of us would haul up a dogfish or a pout, very occasionally the odd ray might be taken or even a real prize such as a bass.
More dogs and pout would be taken and in desperation, whole fillets of mackerel or whole squid would be used to try to tempt any other fish before the dogs or pout found the baits. Of course that ploy would never work, so after a while one of us would tentatively ask the skipper if a move to another mark might be in order.
A quick chat to his mates over the VHF radio would reveal that one or two flatties were being taken by anglers inshore over the sandy ground, whilst further out, a number of small cod had been caught next to some rough ground. After a show of hands the half-hour steam to the flatfish marks would begin.
With the rods put away, flasks of tea and coffee would be opened-up and once suitably refreshed, we'd start exchanging our heavy leads and big hooks for long flowing traces, beads, flounder spoons and delicate hooks.
A quarter of a mile offshore and clear of the other boats, confidence re-kindled. At least now we shouldn't be pestered by dogs or pout: Let battle commence! All the usual baits, ragworm, lugworm, squid strips would be tried. Spoons jigged, beads changed. Nothing, not a damn thing showed any interest. Why???
The sad story didn't change when, after enduring one too many fruitless boat trip, I decided to sell all my boat fishing gear and purchase some beach gear. A lot of time was spent flicking through umpteen books and magazines and the more I read, the more I liked.
Super-duper rods that could put a bait out two-hundred yards, luxuriously smooth and ultra-free-running multipliers and all the other hi-tech gear that is now part of the beach anglers' armoury: I bought the lot! So keen was I to get to grips with this beach fishing lark that I regularly used to meet up with a registered casting instructor for lessons on pendulum casting.
After having become confident with casting (because I didn't want to look like a complete idiot on the beach!) all there was left to do was to get some bait. Of course the end result, apart from the odd exception, was loads more pout and doggies. All right, so there were times when cod, bass or flatfish would show up, but when they did it was usually only in ones or two's.
Don't get the wrong idea: There are still plenty of anglers (most of whom are far more adept than I) still catching prize specimens, both from boat and shore. The trouble now is that there isn't anything like the numbers of fish around our coasts that there should be. The gradual decline of numbers since the war has been worsened since we joined Europe thirty years ago, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.
Loopholes that allow foreign trawlers to take fish from our territorial waters using nets the size of Wembley Stadium; allowing bass to be taken from their spawning grounds in the Irish Box. Unscrupulous netsmen, tangle nets, gill nets, fish traps, the list goes on.
Rod and line fishermen too, have to take a share of the blame: large numbers of smoothhounds visit several well-known marks on the south coast the same time every year. All you had to do was to turn up with a bucket full of crab and success would be guaranteed.
Some sea-angling clubs, knowing this, used to hold matches when they knew the smoothies were around, the result...carnage, dozens and dozens of very dead fish being taken to the scales for the weigh-in, with most being left to rot in the public car park afterwards.
Thankfully now, clubs and associations having seen the error of their ways, are now beginning to adopt methods that allow the safe return of fish caught during matches.It may be a small start, but I can guarantee that this year's influx of smoothhounds will be jolly glad of it.
Who knows, maybe in twenty years time I'll be back in the tackle shop buying some boat fishing gear again, I'd certainly like to think so.