Cornwall, the land of myth and legend. A place where locals tell tales of giants scouring out beaches and dragons inhabiting caves. These days, the stories of Excalibur’s silver steel rising from the quiet waters seem a little far fetched. The water and land now belong to the tourists (also not so lovingly referred to as ’emmets’), struggling to adjust to the windy lanes and narrow streets. There are also angling tourists, which I guess I am, despite being from Looe and born in Truro. I have lived in the city of Plymouth for well over 10 years now but I make the pilgrimage over the River Tamar regularly to target the multitude of fish species that inhabit Cornwall’s legendary waters. Every time I visit, I know there is the chance of something almost mythical making an appearance; this time was no different.
Three LRF daytrippers met in a Plymouth car park. Richard Salter (https://www.facebook.com/DevonLerfer and https://www.youtube.com/user/WashfordRichy), Joe Mole (https://www.instagram.com/dawlish_lrf/) and myself (the driver for the day). We had been hyping ourselves up for a big day of Cornish ‘lerfing’, knowing the possibilities ahead of us. We were starting later than planned, not totally unexpected considering that both Rich and Joe had to come from Cullompton and Dawlish to meet me in Plymouth. Still, as always when we jump across the border, we were full of excitable chat about what species to target.
Soon the road was disappearing beneath us and we were in the holy land. The road was thick with cars from all over the country, coming to Cornwall for less fish-related reasons than us! In due course we arrived at the first mark, which in typical summer fashion was filled with crabbers. This pastime seems to be a rite of passage for many holidaymakers, most of whom are harmless even if they do get in the way. I figured we could find a few of the goby family to kick our species count off. In mild overcast weather, the water in front of us was shallow and clear. Tiny mullet flitted around in small shoals, probably a little too small to realistically target. On went tiny jigheads and sections of pink Marukyu Isome and Ecogear Shirasu. The local goby population was sure to take an interest. We had a chance of black and rock varieties, plus that rather impressive brute, the giant goby.
Fishing around structure is a sure-fire way to find mini predators and we soon had the attention of one of the largest. The hulking head of a giant goby emerged, a dark menacing silhouette that, when compared to it’s smaller cousins, looks monstrous! The fish pounced and after a brief tussle was in my hand. Giant gobies can grow up to 30cm, far bigger than any other UK goby species. They are protected, meaning they have to be released if caught. Of course, mine always go back anyway and every time make for a welcome surprise when fishing rockpools or similar spots. This mark was full of them though and they wouldn’t let anything else get a look in. Joe had a really good-sized fish, which was all the more special for being his first ever – Joe had finally become a giant slayer. One species ticked off and with no others getting a chance, we moved on to the next location.
It was clear the strong south west wind that was building was going to limit our choice of venues. It looked like we were going to be stuck with fishing a very busy Fowey, which wasn’t the worst thing as the place can be fantastic. The trouble was everyone else in Cornwall seemed to think it was fantastic too! Each spot was either full of pasty munchers, feather chuckers, crabbers or ferry queuers. It wasn’t going to be easy anywhere. The crowds made for a difficult and rather disheartening few hours where we had to scratch for anything that would bite, which was micro pollock mostly. We kept our spirits up though with the odd pasty and cut price pastry as we waited for the tide to flood.
Despite the tasty pastry, the excitement of the morning had soon dissipated. Things were looking bleak. We had to fight both a harsh wind and the various kayakers and small boaters for a reliable spot to fish. Rarely am I disappointed with Fowey but I had certainly made the wrong call to fish it through this busy summer day. Time ticked on though and fresh seawater had finally begun to flood into the estuary. After a long, painful period of slow, rather bleak fishing, we had a good shot at a few species. And with the tide returned my optimism – we had until late to fish and the tourists would soon head home.
The afternoon was giving way to evening and with the lowering sun came potential. Three lerfers, hiding away from the crowds on a harbour wall, dropping our miniature lures into the sheltered corner below. The tide had really pushed in and I knew the now flooded steps below us could hold dragons. These are dragons of the less fire breathing, more sharp spined and tiny mouthed kind. I rigged on a 2 gram Cheburashka head coupled with a size 12 hook, on which I threaded an inch of small red Marukyu Isome – top dragon food. There was no need for casting, my targets were hopefully just below my rod tip, 10 feet of water down. I lowered the Cheb head and fed the line quickly from the reel, hoping a micro pollock didn’t snaffle it before it could hit the bottom. I had succeeded in avoiding the ravenous pollock, so I tightened my line and waited.
When fishing for gentle mini predators like the dragons, too much movement can be a very bad thing. These are often shy mini-beasts, so I kept my rod tip dead still as I waited to feel the pluck of a dragon. A pluck did come, then another, and then a furious mini vibration, clearly a fish attacking the fake worm with vigour. It was clear this would-be dragon was small though, even by the species’ not considerable standards. I remained patient, knowing the dragon would eventually make its way to the hook. A stronger pluck and I lifted into it. With a name like dragonet, a mighty battle should have ensued – all fire, steam and brimstone – but alas, it was the tiddler of all tiddlers! A baby common dragonet was in my hand, my first of 2020. I still felt that familiar sense of success that any size fish on LRF tackle gives you, ticking off a target for the year. Unhooked, the toddler dragon was returned to grow on.
The common dragonet is a species that can grow up to 30cm but inshore is rarely caught longer than 20. It is a streamlined sand dwelling fish that can catch anglers out with the three razor sharp spines adorning its gills. They can be mistaken for weever fish, but aren’t venomous like the weever and generally do little more damage than giving a rather precise cut to the skin. I always handle them with care, trying not to rest my fingers above their gills. These are truly beautiful little fish though, with males bearing bright electric blues on their cheeks and fins. For species hunters and lerfers like me, Rich and Joe, they are an exciting and often rare catch. I was certainly feeling rather chuffed with myself, having caught that baby dragon. Things got even better when I pulled out another two, including a better fish of over 15cm. No legendary monster dragon but a beauty all the same.
I had been goading Rich and Joe during my brief dragon-fest, with Rich in particular really keen to get one of his own. I left them to the spot and Rich finally tempted his own dragonet, with Joe adding to the species total with a little pout. It was still tough going, with patchy rain and bitter wind on our backs. Despite the flurry of dragons, the usual species remained difficult to locate. I pulled out the usual tricks and still I couldn’t find a scorpion fish or even a tompot blenny. We fished on without adding any new species to the total for quite some time. As I often do, I grew restless and decided it was time to move back into town.
The light had continued to drop and with that so did the numbers of tourists roaming the streets. With the wind at our backs we found a quiet corner, only broken by the occasional water taxi steaming in. The clean sand that lined the harbour below, was often home to flounder and schoolie bass, plus the common blennies that lived in the harbour walls. These would be our targets for the next couple of hours, as day turned into night. True to the day’s form,, things weren’t easy. The fish were still not present in big numbers. That would change every so often though as a shoal of mackerel would swim past, chasing the huge shoals of herring fry around. These made for easy pickings as we cast to them, all three of us tempting the tiger striped torpedoes, ripping line from our reels every time. There are few finer, more frantic fights than a mackerel on LRF tackle – it’s glorious fun. They took a variety of soft plastics, mine mostly falling to a Monkey Lures Shaky Lui 7.5cm in Big L Spezial colour.
Rich took to bumping a whole Marukyu Isome worm along the bottom, his target species didn’t take much persuading. I watched as his rod pulled around as the fish tried to dive under the slip below him. It was a small but highly spirited flounder, a fish that we always appreciate catching. Although a fish often associated with winter bait fishing and big open estuaries, anglers in the know have been targeting these brilliant flatfish on lures for years. Their aggression and habit of hunting the harbours of the UK make them top LRF targets. Joe was soon joining the action, trying a similar tactic to Rich and caught a similarly sized flattie, the evening was picking up.
The light was now completely gone and I wanted silver. With all the baitfish and mackerel shoaling up in the river, bass wouldn’t be far behind. Bearing in mind that I was only using a rod rated for 7 grams of casting weight, I wasn’t going to be targeting a beast but the many schoolies would be sure to provide a lot of fun. Onto a 3 gram jighead went a 7cm LMAB Kofi Perch in silver, a dead ringer for a small baitfish. The tide was pushing in around the corner, providing a perfect ambush spot for clever predators. I flung the lure out into the current, letting it drop through the water column. Once I was satisfied it had nearly touched bottom, I started a steady retrieve, occasionally pulsing the rod tip to give the lure a bit of flash. Twice I retrieved all the way to the wall without a sniff, the next cast would be different.
I turned the reel and the rod tip pulled over sharply, I struck into nothingness… damn! I thought I had missed the fish but the tip pulled round again. This time I did not miss, I struck into a powerful fish. I could feel the beat of the tail as the fish turned on the line and my immediate thought went to mackerel, as the tail beats felt frantic feeding up the line. The fish soon came to the surface, thrashing in the current in a very un-mackerel-like way and I could see that it was, of course, a bass. Just out of the glow of the artificial light, I could see the fish head shaking, breaking the previously calm surface. I couldn’t work out the size as the fish took to headshaking and swimming towards me, but some of the runs started to impress me though. I eventually worked the bass into the shallow water below me. With the light sand below and streetlight above, the fish looked huge! However, I felt confident I had it beat and Rich extended the full 4 metres of the Spro Net handle to reach the fish. Like a true professional gillie he had it in the bag first time!
Showing how different a fish can look out of the water, this fine schoolie was no monster but on LRF tackle, clearly a decent catch. At least two pounds of silver predatory perfection, I held him up for a couple of quick snaps. Dropping down on the steps to make the release easier, I was able to hold the fish briefly until it kicked and was gone. I was feeling sky high, sitting down and reliving the fight in my head. It may have been a baby by most hardcore bass angler’s standards, but I am not a hardcore bass angler. As a catch ’em all lerfer, it had made my evening. Richard had got the bass flavour too and soon had a strong take on a two inch Keitech Easy Shiner. With an audience of some friendly old blokes, enthused by witnessing my catch, they egged Rich on as he battled a strong schoolie of his own. It was soon my turn to play gillie as I ran the net under the fish. After returning the favour to Rich I took some quick photos of his bass. We were really enjoying ourselves now.
Time was beginning to tick away from us and we really had to consider the long drive home. We had one last spot to try, where the artificial light beamed onto the water. This normally meant hectic fishing action if we were lucky. We approached the mark and I made the first cast. Instantly I was into a schoolie, the fish zipping around the boats and sunken pillars. This fish wasn’t a patch on my previous bass though and was soon beat. We were trying to drop the lures deep for scad but the mackerel kept snatching the lures first – they were a pest! Casting further and trotting the lure down in the current we could avoid the mackerel menace. Rich drew first blood, getting pulled around by a beauty of a scad. The power of these fish is seriously underrated! I netted it and all three of us marvelled at the fish that put the ‘HORSE’ into horse mackerel.
The next fifteen minutes consisted of constant silver service – bass, scad, mackerel, almost every drop. This was special fishing, all three rods arching into powerful pelagic fish. We struggled to pull ourselves away. Eventually we saw sense and called it a night, although we could have fished there until dawn. Slightly heartbroken to leave, we made our way to the car, Rich with a couple of mackerel to take home for the next day’s dinner. Our Cornish adventure had featured giants, dragons and a lot of silver! A modern day version of all the myths and legends that surround that hallowed land. We headed home, already planning our return to slay more beasts.