I run a small boat pretty much exclusively for big fish around the British Isles. By small, I mean 17ft long as it has to be easily trailered to access some of the areas I fish in and by big, I mean any fish over 100lbs.
I’ll fish any area where there is a chance of ticking off another species over 100lbs and the nature of these targets means that I have to put some considerable miles in. This year alone I’ve done over 4000 miles with my boat on the back and had 3 species fishing single-handedly over 100lbs. In fact, my first trip on the new boat this year was a 1200 mile round trip. My total to date is 5 of the more “common” 8 species that can be found around our coasts that can be expected to exceed 100lb. I’m sure there is potential for more species than this and although I never expect to complete my list I enjoy having a target to aim for. In my downstairs bathroom I have a set of old prints of 9 species that I believe are possible round the British Isles and every time I catch one I put the rig that caught the first one behind the print. A bit of a tick list if you like, the ultimate aim being to have a rig behind them all, though the chances of achieving some of the fish on there have to be remote at best! I’ll keep ploughing on and see how far I can get but I’ll need a huge amount of luck to finish the wall off.
This type of fishing takes a certain attitude and mindset as blanks are not uncommon and I’m often alone when I’m dealing with these fish which only heightens the challenge. Plenty of people more experienced than me have had serious accidents when tangling with fish of this size so you do need to be relatively fit and go prepared. Here I’ll take a look at some of the things I do that have helped me achieve what I have so far. I think we can break it down into 4 main areas:
When you’re targeting different species on your own boat it’s very different from stepping onboard a charter where the skipper has put in much of the research for you. I have nothing against the charter approach, not everyone has the spare time and money or wants to run their own boat and sometimes it’s not possible to target the more unusual species from a small boat; although being your own skipper means you can devote as much time to a species as you like, whereas charter skippers need their results more quickly if people are to keep paying them for trips.
There are different techniques and rigs to master for each species you want to target. Many of these fish simply can’t be caught using conventional methods. I think in most cases, unless you are specifically targeting them, you would never know they were there at all. Research is an area I really enjoy as it’s pretty much endless and you can go into as much detail as you like; the more time you put in the more you will get out of it. There are lots of people online who are generous with their knowledge that will help get you started, whilst I also have a large collection of old books where I’ll look at how things used to be done, different ways of rigging baits, historical records of species etc, then of course there are the charts where you can spend forever looking for combinations of ground and tide that you think might suit your chosen species.
The weather plays an important factor in this type of fishing as the windows of opportunity for some of the species are very short and I’m lucky that my job is relatively flexible so I can drop things and go when the weather allows. My phone weather apps are full of multiple locations and every morning as I’m walking the dogs I scroll through the relevant places for that time of year to see how the week is shaping up and whether I’ll get a shot. There is also a smallish group of people with a similar mindset and sharing information with them as well as buddying up and double boating on some of the more adventurous trips is an enjoyable aspect of what we’re all looking to achieve.
Equipment and maintenance
This is a massive deal, especially when you’re alone. I keep a range of spares by the tow-bar of the boat in the workshop so that I can never forget them which I’ll run through here. A toolbox containing spare split pins, dust caps, bearing sets, grease, spare wheel, wheel brace, manual winch, spare 12V winch and all the tools I could need to change any of them. I also take plenty of spare fuel. I service and change my own bearing and brakes on the trailer and I change rollers as required and even service my own outboard as I’ve heard some horror stories of people paying for services that have never been actioned. Servicing my own engine also means I know my way around it a bit better should I ever get a problem at sea. I fitted a remote control 12V electric winch to my trailer which I connect to my truck using Anderson connectors, this means I can easily launch and recover my boat on my own along with the excellent “Floatem” poles that stop the boat being twisted off the trailer mid retrieve and smashed against the trailer by rogue waves.
Boat and setup
A very personal area and everyone thinks theirs is the best! I used to run a Wilson Flyer with a 60hp Yamaha on the back and had some excellent fishing on it with fish well over 400lbs. Once I realised exactly what was swimming around down there I got more serious about things, saved hard and made the plunge to upgrade my setup as the boat I was using was getting old and I’d found myself out in some pretty dangerous areas that I would have felt happier in with something more reliable and with a bit more freeboard.
I now run a Nord Fisher 170 with a 100hp Yamaha that I find suits my needs perfectly as despite being the same length as the Wilson it’s physically a much bigger boat. It’s quicker, sits nicely in the water and has enough freeboard to reach down and deal with a big fish without you worrying about being swamped. All equipment has to be easily to hand, since I changed my boat earlier this year I have made my own changes and fitted additional rod holders, connected in an NMEA 2000 system, added in a 12V charger and connected in a twin battery setup. After a (new) battery dropped a cell in July I found my jump pack wouldn’t work as it was going through a failed battery-I thought I was covered by the jump pack but you live and learn, luckily a friend was fishing nearby and was kind enough to tow me the long way back in. There is a dry grab bag always to hand containing an Epirb and a handheld DSC radio.
It’s important that wherever you are on the boat you can reach the things you might need during a fight with a fish such as disgorgers, wiring gloves, harness and measuring tapes. These should be made ready at the start of the day not midway as I’ve hooked fish within a minute or two of arriving at a spot-you won’t get the chance to sort it out once you’re hooked into a big fish. I always have a knife in my pocket as well as a pair of pliers on a bungee on my belt in case of a tip wrap or clutch failure on a reel, both of which could see you straight over the side. I also attach a lanyard to my harness so that I can tie myself into the boat and the harness is quick release. There are multiple lifejackets on board, flare packs as well as plenty of water, fuel and a small gas cooker that helps brighten up those long sessions in the cold.
Tackle and rigs
This is closely linked to the research section above and could nearly be included there but I thought it merited its own section. Tackle is an expensive area when you go down the route of fish over 100lbs and mistakes can be costly both financially and in terms of lost fish. I’ve settled on Avet reels both 30 and 50 size with 80 and 100lb braid, plus topshots to match connected by a modified FG knot I have made up respectively. Topshots are connected to the rigs by a Plait Knot and a Sandiego Jam Knot to a crosslock swivel, the plait helps combat the stress of head shakes and fast runs from big fish and I have yet to have this system fail on me. Rods are generally Penn Ally 30-80lb or Penn Internationals and these have stood up to everything I’ve thrown at them including fish over 1000lbs.
This year I was fishing for Blue sharks with a Penn 20-40lb rod and had a Bluefin Tuna take my bait and despite being massively undergunned with such a small rod I still got the fish to the boat and away safely, although handling the boat and fighting it on my own took a bit of doing. I fight all my fish standup and use the Aftco harness and pad system to allow me to put more pressure on the fish and less on me. Rigs are a personal choice and part of the achievement for me is in catching a fish on something I’ve designed and made myself.
I’m very brand loyal and once I find something works I will stick with it, I’ve had good success with AFW wire in 480lb for anything with teeth, MoMoi monofilament is abrasion resistant and has stood me well, Owner and Mustad hooks are both good but I very much see hooks as disposable, the points quickly corrode and they should be changed immediately. Rig design, composition and building is one aspect of my fishing that I really enjoy and although many of the themes like Flemish eyes and crimping techniques are common to them all, each rig for a target is subtly different to the next. I also make all my own chum for the sharks and like to catch my own hookbaits so the whole achievement really is of my own doing.
Anyway so there you have it, that’s the start of an insight into how I work. In future months, I’ll start to go into the detail on some of the species, showing the UK has a lot to more to offer the big fish enthusiast than many assume.