Those readers who have been keeping up with my monthly articles for this magazine will know how I love a species hunt. Though the Big Lerf events I help arrange have most of my focus, there is a competition that is dear to my heart – The Cornish Lure Festival, or CLF as we affectionately call it. The CLF was back on this year after a Covid enforced break, so that meant we excitedly paid our £10 entry and planned our journeys to Wadebridge in Cornwall for Friday 15th October…
The CLF is effectively two lure fishing weekends, one for bass, one for LRF. Although I respect bass anglers, my interest is obviously on the lighter side so that’s the weekend I went for. It is hosted by legendary tackle shop, The Art Of Fishing, owned by Ben Field. Ben hurriedly put this year’s event together once it became clear Covid wouldn’t put a stop to it, so it was a little smaller than previous years. Despite the smaller numbers, it was clear there was some impressive quality to the participants. Some of the finest Lerfers had made the pilgrimage to the shop for sign in at 12pm on the Friday, ready for a manic sleepless weekend to come.
Where was I at 12pm on Friday 15th October? I was at work, counting down the seconds until finish at 5pm. I had got married the weekend before and had taken enough time off for that, for obvious and life affirming reasons. Speaking of life affirming, I have to thank my Wife Abi for being incredibly understanding in my Lerfing obsession… She’s very clearly ‘The One’! So with Abi’s blessing I was on my way to Wadebridge, trying to dodge the Friday night traffic. I arrived at the shop, quickly grabbed my number card and set off to try and catch a reasonable amount of species. What I will write next, won’t be a minute by minute recollection of the weekend, I have already delved into that on The Big Lerf Podcast, but I want to talk about my highlight of a superb and often frustrating weekend.
By the time I found my usual fishing buddies, Rich Salter and Joe Mole in Fowey, I had already lost two tub gurnard and left my first mark frustrated. I had only a small whiting and pollock to my name, not the start I had dreamed of. It seemed everyone else had made the most of their time and were already on their way to ten species, the pressure was real! Thankfully, under a rising half moon and slowly receding tide, we found tiny common dragonets patrolling the golden sand below us. These quirky bottom dwelling fish are prized in species hunts and they were plentiful illuminated by the torches strapped to our foreheads. The expanding beam of light provided a window into the shallow water, a world full of prawns, small fish and the occasional chunky flounder.
I had caught my little dragon and now desired a scorpion fish. Small neap tides can often make for excellent scorpion fishing, as these small predators make the most of the still water and lower risk of bass predation. I certainly didn’t struggle as I worked a one gram jighead and an Ecogear Aqua Shirasu lure around the ledge below me. The classic ‘whack!’ from a scorp’ bite soon reverbrated up the rod and the fish was mine. I held in my hand a prehistoric looking beast, vibrating like a Nokia 3310, covered in stripes and spines. I really can’t tire of this species. I followed it up with another and my work was done.
As we moved through the town, I followed the scorp’ up with a fine scad, caught on a small metal worked under a boat. The scad had taken an age to tempt though and the bass wouldn’t bite. Time had ticked on and the night was turning crisp and cold. My body felt heavier and my mind seemed to drift with tiredness. With nothing else biting there wasn’t much more I could do, other than get in the car and drive to where I was staying to get some kip!
I arrived in my family’s home town of Looe, where my Gran’s skinny fisherman’s cottage, and my bed for the evening, is perched half way up the steep Chapel Ground steps. As usual on a Friday night, the seaside town was still half awake, with the occasional shouts of drunken revellers echoing across the valley, kicked out of the town’s one and only, and very dated, nightclub. Despite the occasional disturbance of the peace, Looe was so beautiful that night, with the harbour lights dancing off the water in the river and everything becoming so still. It was quite the contrast to the hustle and bustle of the daytime in the busy town. With the conditions so perfect, I couldn’t resist one last try for a flounder, having failed to catch one in Fowey. I soon found some shallow water and scanned the sand for the tell tale signs of a flattie.
Fishing is a funny thing, only an hour before I had hit a wall, truly ready for bed. Now I was wide awake, scanning the water for my target, laser focused for any hint of a flounder. Clearly I was still tired (or not optimistic) because I had left my landing net in the car – so sure I was that I wouldn’t find a thing. I was so very wrong!
The neap tide was working to my advantage, with the usual strong tidal current almost crawling to a halt, even as it slowly ebbed away. I could not have asked for better LRF flounder conditions. I readied my Snooded Dropshot rig for action! Onto the size 12 hook went an Ecogear Aqua Komushi in white, perfectly imitating a small prawn or fry. To make things even more exciting, I soon found what I was looking for, only two metres out, a large flounder of perhaps two pounds sat on the sand. My heart was soon thumping in my chest, the last dregs of carbonated caffeine rushing through my synapses, enhancing my focus. Nothing else in the world mattered at that moment, it was just me and the fish.
We were not alone though. As if to make my heart explode in excitement, two other, even larger flounder creeped into view, as if investigating this new light in their world. One of them was quite possibly the largest flounder I had ever seen! It’s huge fins disturbing the sediment as it shifted it’s position.
‘Stick or twist time Ben’ I thought to myself. I didn’t have a net and the phrase, ‘the fox who chases too many hens goes hungry’ came to mind. So I stuck with my initial target. Sadly, whether it was the headtorch, the lure or the other two giants coming in closer, my initial target decided it wasn’t impressed and moved away. The 3lb plus tank also decided to follow my fish, providing a double whammy of disappointment. So I moved along, hoping that they would move back into torch range with a moment’s respite from me.
I was still fired up though, my hot breath filling the air with steam, I had to remember to watch my breathing to stop the clouds catching the torchlight and blocking my view! Calming myself down I focused once more, pacing slowly along the wall. Another fish came into view and it was another brute! I couldn’t believe the consistent quality of the fish I was seeing, but this one was almost under my feet facing me. We both froze, engaging in a game of blink first (with one of us lacking eyelids!). The flounder ‘blinked’ first and spooked as it turned 180 degrees and kicked away into the gloom. Maybe this wouldn’t be my night after all, despite the promise of all these huge flounder. In my tired (and wired) state I was clearly not being stealthy enough. Again I moved on…
The ground before me was a mix of sand, mud and clumps of bladder weed. As I moved along, small bass, tiny pollock and miniscule gobies were illuminated in the artificial light. Some darted for cover, others held, almost transfixed by this otherworldly glow. If I wasn’t quite so desperate for a flounder I would have appreciated these ghostly forms more, but I soon had another chunky flatfish in my sights. This fish was facing out into the dark of the river, away from my headtorch. This had potential. I cast out into the blackness, far past the fish so not to disturb it. I reeled in quickly to pull the lure into position. As it came into sight, I slowed right down, allowing the lure to briefly settle on the estuary bottom. I gently reeled it back to me, bringing it right in line with the flounder’s big bony head.
The benefit of using the snooded dropshot was clear to see here, as my lure wafted in the gentle current just above the flatfish, right in it’s eyeline. This subtle movement seemed to get it’s attention, even with my weary eyes I could see the tell tale twitches in the fins, the tensing of the tail… This fish was either going to shoot off or take the lure. I held my breath as I awaited it’s decision. Milliseconds felt like minutes as I stood heron-like by the water’s edge. Just me, an LRF rod and a flounder in the dead of night. After what felt like an age, it moved and with a raise of it’s head and a snap of it’s jaw it took the lure!
The silence was broken.
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! The Shimano Vanford sang as the fish ran for the deeper water. The drag echoed satisfyingly through the valley. My Major Craft rod, rated to a tiny 3 grams, bent double as the fat flounder pulled with power and purpose in the blackness. I was truly awake now and convincing myself that the hook would pull free at any second. With each passing second though, I had to realise that I may have to try and land this fish – without a net!
I couldn’t get carried away though as the flounder was still not beaten. She was making the most of being caught on light tackle, as I could not bully her and still she pulled, and pulled. Despite the hair-like braid I was using, glowing pink in the torchlight under tension, I was actually starting to winthe fight! The flounder had slowed the long runs and was now fighting dirty, digging it’s head into every piece of weed it could find under the rod tip. Again I told myself the hook would soon transfer from gaping mouth to weed root at any moment, but still the fish stayed attached to my line. I chastised myself for forgetting the net, saying out loud to no one but myself, ‘you idiot Ben!’.
And so began the attempt to land one of my largest flounder ever, without a net. The surface of the water was about four feet below where I stood, although there was a weed lined ledge a foot below. Looking to my left and right in mild panic, I couldn’t see any better option. I would have to brave the slippery ledge and pray I would be able to reach the water. All of that whilst keeping an angry flounder out of the snags and attached to my line. I must have looked comical to anyone peering out of their window, or to the owls hooting high in the trees behind me. There I was at 3am in the morning, left arm lifting my rod as high as I could, right arm reaching to the water’s surface, with a now beaten flounder circling just an inch from my fingertips! I stretched even more and the flounder came into my grasp, one more time I felt the hook would pull but no! I felt the bony gill plate of the fish and gripped hard.
The flounder was mine! Onto the smooth concrete the fish went and I punched the air in relief! Despite the cold I was sweating, mostly from anxiety I think, but now the sweet endorphin rush of the catch washed over me. The flounder was thick, probably the thickest set flattie I had ever caught.
I was too excited to measure or weigh the fish, but it was likely close to, if not my best ever flounder. Like all specimen flounder, the fish was dark green and brown, with a huge tail and comically wonky proportions. Catching it during the CLF made it all the more special and I made sure I got my photos so it counted. With a few luxury snaps taken, I lowered the fish back into the river. Appreciating the big girl one more time, she shot away into the gloom and my night was done!
During the rest of the weekend I managed about eight hours sleep, was treated to incredible sunrises and sunsets whilst catching nineteen species. Despite my delayed start I finished fifth behind Will Pender in first, Joe Mole in second, Andy Mytton in third and Rich Salter in fourth. We all arrived back at the shop on Sunday lunchtime frazzled, sleep deprived and full of tales. My tales were of course focused on an early hours sight-fished flatfish, a truly special moment on a special weekend. A huge congratulations to Will for his incredible 25 species total and an equally large thank you to Ben for putting it on. We look forward to seeing what he comes up with next year!