The Oxwich competition over we had a plan to go for quality fish. I woke up around six and joined John, Martin and Chicky up by the marquee, the last two standing from the night before and set to work barbecuing some pork burgers for my breakfast while drinking three strong mugs of Azeera that John handed me. Result! I had slept well and was raring to go but the rest were still sleeping and we couldn’t get parked up before eight. The others appeared eventually and then we set about tying rigs. Five of us gathered around Mark who had the 8/0's out and while he, Martin and Amos crimped up wire and tied on rubbing leaders I replaced my semi-circle thick gage 10/0s with some of Mark's finer, shinier 8/0's onto my 1mm 80 lb clear mono leader, a five foot trace with a large swivel being my favoured route before a bead and zip slider on the 40lb braid. This would remove the weak point of braid to mono leader knot (it can cut through) and combine both in one. This was fitted to my 7ft Maxximus Nano 10-20 lb rod and LD15 Lever drag reel; Lever drag is brilliant when going for larger fish as you can have it freespooling one minute then flick the drag on to the max for the strike to set the hook deeply then slacken it own to the right level so the fish can take line without the imprecision of fiddling two handed with a star drag. I tied up five rigs, handing two to Shaun and keeping the other two in reserve. Mine were on 80 lb 1mm mono with hooks nicked off Mark, he, Martin and Amos used wire. Then we set off for the beach. Yaks off, game on!
I had enough waiting around for the others and set off first trolling a string of ten sabikis on a large wedge with the Nano 7-25 g / LP Magnet set up in the hope of some mackerel - I had no bait otherwise. I stopped to jig a couple of times for no result then, on my third stop, while winding it in across the surface I had my first ever English garfish! I was made up, it was one of those species that has been on the hit list for years. I’d had a metre-long one off the Dominican Republic from the side of the ship I worked on the night after I turned twenty one so it was a great result. Great bait too. Beautiful little thing.
I headed out deeper, jigged for a while, Shaun joining me. Finally a pollack jumped on the hook. "Where the hell were you yesterday when I was looking for you eh?" Didn't escape this time id it, oh no. In the tank well for bait and two more followed in the next ten minutes. Perfect size for bait. Shaun was struggling so I gave him one. Inshore, Mark had Gurnard, launce and mackerel, one of each. No-one else had caught at this point.
We paddled out past the point looking for somewhere likely, devoid of marks or electronics, just a vague idea from a second-hand conversation. A radio conversation sporadically between us to report what we'd found bait-wise. Mark said Pikey was heading out and he'd managed one yesterday so knew where we needed to go. Then Shaun pulled up a string of four mackerel with me getting one straight after. We had good bait and we stuck the tope rods down while we drifted slowly around, with mine cut as a flapper once it had died after half an hour drifting as a livebait.
Then, whistling. A couple of kayaks were out a few hundred yards away. We called the Oxwich boats for no reply and went out to investigate. No, they weren't in trouble, there was a comp running and the whistles were to call in the rib to weigh the catch. Oh, they'd had four tope! Shaun told me this...should we drop here? "No, Pikey's nearly here and he knows the mark...sod it, they're here, yes!"
The anchor went straight down, a 2 kg borrowed off John after mine had been left in the wreck the day before. I dropped the bait down, mackerel head and one remaining fillet on it, the other ripped off in the snags from drifting it. Shaun moved around to get position ... tap tap tap ... tap tap tap ... ZZZZZZZZZZZZ!
Rod in hand, thumb on the lever drag, wait, two seconds, five seconds ... don't miss it ... ten seconds (might well have been two!) lever right up to the gate, rod up, strike! Strike! Hook up! The rod arches down and it goes mental, banging and runs, good weight, good fish ... "Tope on Shaun, don't drop yet, don't know where he's going or where the anchor's laying and I want pictures!" He circles, the fish goes uptide a bit, around, crosses the bow a few times, I pump it up, the drag lightened off to just the right amount so it can pull line every time it dives. I'm not going to bully it. It comes up, we get a sight of it - twenty-five I reckon, decent fish, the size of the only other one I had, up in Scotland a few years back, we've done it! It fights hard, comes up close, Shaun is filming and snapping, I get a couple of it in the water and then it's alongside, still quite fresh, the hook in the scissors, perfect hook-up. I grab the leader, disengage the drag, stick the rod in the flushmount, get it close to hand, can't grab it ... it pulls, takes line, the leader goes through my hand, I'm holding the braid, it rubs the braid on the side of the yak as it goes under, runs it over something and it parts. Damn, no trophy shot! I call Martin and Mark up, they've just got to Pikey's mark, going to try there.
Shaun drops anchor. I put down half one of Shaun's mackerel, head half, hook going up through the head from the bottom as per the mackerel. Down it goes. Shaun is setting his anchor and it's tap, tap, tap ... take it ... tap, tap, tap ... come on ... tap, tap, tap "here fishy fishy, come on fishy fishy ..." it goes quiet. Teasing does nothing, I wind up. Bait gone. Tail end and down...two minutes, tap, tap, tap...I call Mark and Martin, they're coming now!...tap, tap, tap...goes quiet, bait gone. Half a pollack, head half ... tap, tap, tap ... wait for it ... tap, tap, tap ... here fishy fishy ... tap tap tap ... quiet, bait gone. Mark and Martin drop anchor. tap, tap, tap a few times then quiet. Five minutes later I pull up a good brown crab, he drops off at the bow. I replace the bait. Shaun's drifted out further, he's into a tope. It snaps him as he's landing it, a good fish too. We're fishing like amateurs. Amos drops anchor nearby. Martin and Mark are getting taps but no hook ups. Me? Tap, tap, tap...I stroke my lucky hat, here fishy fishy, come on fishy fishy ... tap, tap, tap. I have a pollack head on with guts. Crushed a bit and slashed a bit. Tap, tap, tap ... ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!
He's off, I leave it, leave it, leave it, thumb the drag and hit it ... Bang! Bang! Tope on! Off it goes, doesn't like this one bit! The drag is reset, line is being taken the fish is being pumped up two to one, it heads uptide, downtide, across ... Amos moves over to take video and stills, I play it, take my time, don't bully it, tire it out for landing but not too much ...it breaks the surface. Good fish! A PB, UK PB too, looks 35-40 lb, a belting fish, a nice fat-bellied male in prime condition. I get it alongside, can't reach the tail with the dorsal at my hip, good length...but you don't want to grab the tail anyway, shark's tails are ticklish and they go ape if you grab them there...the hook looks like it's working loose...I grab the pectoral and get a soaking from the tail, it's fighting me hand to hand now...I lift him in and onto my lap. I've done it! YES! I was happy enough with my weekend yesterday, now I'm ecstatic! Amos comes and hooks onto my bow, starts snapping. Camera vertical, getting a nice shot of my bow, me, the tope, the sea, the point...I want some close-ups too but that's not going to happen. I take some from my own camera, camera overhead and far back, the bow mount video steamed up (turns out it does harm and the file is unreadable as it wouldn't go off until the battery died. Gutted.) Job done I reposition it to remove the hook, it's dropped out. I put the fish over the side, holding the tail to let it recover. It gets a breather and then goes for it, splashing me a goodbye. Fantastic!
Right, I have two choices. The first is to bait up again and catch another. I could have, I would have but we're all really tight on bait. Mark and Martin made it out here with a single mackerel. Amos has a couple of gurnard. The fish are under me, I give Amos my spot and go to share my bait out with the others. Pikey is out here now, his anchor is lost so I tell him the fish are here, he can clip to Amos' anchor set-up. I go off to Martin, give him half my remaining bait, move over to Mark, give him the rest - it's a bit of a mess after some tope nibbling but times are hard ... I paddle over to see Shaun ... that's when his second hits, he's just managed a fresh mackerel, it's gone down whole and live and been picked up immediately. His Fladen Powerstick arches south and he's in the money.
I stick close but far enough to film him without being in the way. He's being spun around, he's laughing and swearing, his feather rod gets in the way o I move in and retrieve it from his yak. The tope picks up the line before I retrieve it from the bottom so we have to cut it off lest the braid slice through his mono. It's up, dives again, looks twenty five, comes back to the top, it's alongside. "Grab the pectoral" I tell him and he grabs the tail getting a soaking and a battering ... "get him in" ... "he's in the bag!"
Shaun is over the moon, there's one angry fish aboard and his toes are its target again, as they were in the water...it's bleeding from the mouth and spits the hook while in his lap. Maybe we want a wider gape next time? No matter, our job is easier now and we've got our fish in. I move in for photos and then he's ready to release it ... I switch to video after he gives her a kiss for luck!
Hold her tail and when it's ready it'll go" It was already ready and with its pectorals in the water it goes for it giving us both a soaking. We're laughing and head for the others.
I go to pick up Amos' anchor as Pikey has tied on his spare and dropped it but the tide has picked up now and from leaving getting to Mark and passing him the buoy has been dragged under with not enough warp. I circle for twenty minutes but can't find it. It'll have to drop in height and strength before it resurfaces but no, Amos is going to come in with us. He unhooks and I get the reel but on the wrong side; Shaun comes in and clips to it and starts to haul.
The tide is ripping but we can't drag it out even through the weak link is felt to snap. Two of us are on it as Shaun has water coming over the gunwhales, we get up as much warp as we can, we're straight above but it's got to go; I cut free. Mark, Martin and Pikey haul up and follow the three of us in; they've been unlucky not to connect with anything other than dogfish while Shaun and I have had a field day.
We land, say our au revoirs and head the seven hours home, trying all the way to get James on the phone, James, our usual fishing buddy who couldn't escape work. I send him a text eventually ... "You know when you get a tope on the kayak? Oh, no, sorry. I'll ask Shaun instead. Ignore this text" I hit send and we wait for a bite ... two minutes. Home for half ten, I'm going to bed.