Within a blink of an eye it was that time of year again, the time my attention had turned to, was it a fluke, a one off or had I stumbled across a mark which could produce big specimen tope year after year. It wasn’t quite exactly a year to the day where I broke the British record tope last year but it was within 2 weeks of the date, the tide was the same, the conditions were as good as I wanted them and the enthusiasm and excitement was there.
The tope had arrived in other areas and the mackerel were in numbers, with only a few runs and a lost tope at my feet due to me being on my own and forgetting my landing net, our hope’s were high that we were in with a good chance of bait fish and the predators in tow. It was another first light set off which is pretty common this time of year and the early morning sessions definitely have that edge as far as I’m concerned for tope fishing.
You can’t beat that early morning sunrise as you’re on your way fishing. With rush hour traffic beaten we arrived at the mark within what felt like no time, a 10 minute walk later and we were setting our rods up. The plan was to set up and feather for fresh mackerel for an hour or 2 before the tide had eased enough so we could put our baits on the bottom and hope for that first run of the day.
The tide wasn’t pulling as hard as it should have been and the mackerel were non-existent, so I decided to put a bait out jokingly saying watch the tide start pulling hard as soon as I do. A mackerel bait was mounted on a pulley panel rig with a wire biting trace and sent out in hope that the tide would allow me to fish without pulling me around into the reef. I carried on feathering in disbelief that the tide had then gone completely and just hoped the mackerel would turn up but, before I could even cast the feathers back out that sound happened. The sound that breaks the sound of the sea hitting the rocks and the silence of everything else.
My rod had doubled over and the line was peeling off the reel with the ratchet screaming letting me know something had taken a liking to my mackerel. I tightened the drag and stopped the run and turned the fish quite easily. There were a few 10 -15 yard dashes and a load of head shakes which was giving me the impression the fish was trying it’s best to throw the hooks. The tope then surfaced about 20 yds out and I could see it was a good fish but, what I could also see was it was hooked under the chin in a thin flap of skin! Then, as it often does, the swell picked up as well, pushing the fish to the right of me right under my feet. The net was no good and our only hope was to lift it into a gulley with the next big swell!
It’s always easier said than done with a fish I would have estimated at 45lb and knowing it was only held on the end of my line with a little flap of skin. Then it happened, the obvious, as I lifted it in the swell the hook pulled through the skin and the tope was off! With a flick of it’s tail out of the water as if to say bye bye it was gone!
Thankfully, I don’t get that devastated feeling anymore when I lose decent fish so it was a case of quick get another bait out there, where there’s 1 there’s usually more, and with that baits were sent back out and the feathering was resumed. The dogfish and spider crabs were in the back of my mind and I was hoping they were not there in big numbers otherwise your baits haven’t got a chance for a tope to pick it up because they just sit straight over the top of it and make it nearly impossible for anything else.
For the next hour baits were coming back in fine with the odd dogfish being a nuisance but it was not a problem and I had high Hope’s the tope had a very good chance of finding our mackerel. Then it happened, the second best sound of the day, I’m in I’ve got mackerel on! The anticipation had kicked in and we were hoping they wouldn’t fall off or get snagged on the reef in front. The cheers and the jumping around said they were safe and the rocks, it’s nearly as exciting as the tope fishing itself catching the bait, you know you have just upped your chances because fresh is 100% better than frozen bait when it comes to tope fishing in my opinion.
We feathered for the next half hour and they just disappeared as usually is always the case but, we had enough to last the session and spirits were high. Baits wound in and fresh baits sent out it was just a game of wait it out and hope it happens, and wait long we didn’t because no sooner had the fresh baits hit the bottom that sound happened again and it was panic stations! The fish screamed off and just kept going and going and going even with a tight drag it was not stopping for anyone!
Thankfully after another 40yds it did and then it was turned, the fish did a few more little darting runs but the head shakes were unreal judging by the way his rod was bouncing up and down but then came a bigger problem, the tope had run out so far that when bringing it in it had crossed over my 2 lines. From experience from this happening a few times you need to get them untangled as soon as possible because the lines can cut through the line with the most pressure which usually results in a lost fish. The rods were manoeuvred up, over, under and the line was freed but unfortunately the line must have gone slack and the hooks were thrown out during the head shakes. Lady luck wasn’t on our side but that was two fish at our feet and the hope of other fish being out there as well were highly encouraging.
As is often the case in tope fishing the next few hours were dead, the spider crabs had become a bit of a pain but we knew we had to fish through it in the chance of another fish or two turning up. It’s the quiet times in tope fishing that really make you appreciate the good times and the quiet times are when you can put to rest all of life’s troubles. One of the conversations that came up was the British record Tope I had last year and what did I think the chances of it getting beaten were? My answer was I honestly don’t know but there is always a high chance it could be because I’ve seen a few tope caught over 80lb on the boat and there’s always that chance of 1 swimming close enough to shore for someone to hook in to. Little did we know it would be this afternoon.
The day was coming to an end and we were sure we’d both missed our only chances of the day. A certain state of the tide it gets un-fishable again and that time had just arrived but, to our disbelief it hadn’t started, the same as it slowed down earlier than usual in the morning. So, very quickly we both put fresh baits out in the hope of a one last hurrah before the tide got down to it’s business.
What happened next will stay with me for the rest of my life, we were now an hour after the usual last cast and we still couldn’t believe we were fishing and then it happened. I was feathering to see if there were any mackerel out there to take home for bait as the freezer is getting low and I had a quick glance at my rod. It pulled down fast and erratic and shot back up. My initial thought was another spider crab playing with the bait so I turned my back and carried on retrieving the feathers.
I got to within 10yds of bringing the feathers in and all of a sudden it happened, that sound which brings the heart racing and adrenaline pumping, the screaming noise of the ratchet warning you there’s something running out to sea with your finely presented mackerel bait. I ran to my rod and slowly tightened into what felt like a submarine on the other end of my line. There was no stopping this heavy weight for the first 60yds of the run, then she slowed down and I managed to turn her. There was a massive amount of weight on the other end and I had a feeling I’d hooked another heavy weight of the depths but, it could have also been wrapped up in my rig and shockleader which sometimes gives you that feeling you have hooked a monster. However, such fish font tend to swim or dive but, this fish was giving me the run around. To make matters worse that dreaded tide had started and she was using it to her full advantage! When she held there I couldn’t move her and the twisting on the line and head shaking and diving were getting me nervous!
This carried on for a few minutes with my heart in my mouth. I finally got her on the surface and I instantly knew she was another monster and even might be another 70lb fish. As always, for some reason with tope fishing, when you have a fish on the swell picked up, making things really difficult to land her! She was in the net then out of the net and I was thinking ‘she’s gone, we ain’t landing her’. Then third time lucky the swell pushed her head first into the net but, the job wasn’t finished. We still had to climb back up to the top with her and the yells of ‘Help! Help me! Hurry I can’t hold it!’ got my heart in my mouth even more. The rod thrown down on the rod stand I was down there like a flash! The closer I got the bigger she was getting and when we lifted her out I knew I’d done it again! I’d broken my PB and my own British record!
The climb back up was hard work with a fish of that size and the guesses of the weight had started. We both knew it was another 70 and maybe even the magical 80! Shaking like mad I got my scales out and pressed the zero button. I use the landing net pole to weigh them now the same as the carp boys and it’s much easier than holding the weight yourself. I attached the scales to the pole and lifted her up in the net. At one point she went forward and the sheer weight nearly pulled me over!
We waited in anticipation as the scales settled. 78lb 14oz is where they stopped, we had to take the net off which is 1lb 14oz and that gave us 77lb bang on. I knew I had done it again, it was 100% over 75lb, (the scales have been calibrated and the final weight is 77lb 2oz.) The measurements and videos and pictures were taken and she was put back and sent on her way as quickly as possible and was a strong swim off from her. The cheering and congratulations started and the realisation of what we had just achieved. It’s a team effort and these fish are not easy to land at that size, especially when the sea doesn’t want to give up its fruits. The rods were brought in because the tide had arrived but we didn’t care, we were ready to pack up and make the journey home. I think that’s enough proof to say it wasn’t a one off and hopefully we’ve found a pattern on when the big females pass through the area, that’s now my third UK shore caught species over 60lb since March, proving that hours do equal rewards!
The following day the forecast was not good but the Saturday was looking perfect so myself and Dean Brinn decided to give it another go in case there were any more fish lurking in the depths! The mackerel were hard work but we had enough for our efforts and again the spider crabs and dogfish were there but very quiet.
With baits sent out it was a waiting game again but, Dean didn’t have to wait long, his fresh mackerel bait had an inquiry and his line dropped slack to the floor, then tightened back up and screamed off only for the fish to drop the bait! On further inspection the rig had twisted and the hooks pointed in towards the bait so there was nothing he could have done any different. The next two hours were chaotic with tope hitting our fresh baits and us not being able to keep up, struggling in keeping our rods in the water! Most fish would pick the bait up and scream off then drop it before we could even get to the rods. We were both lucky to land fish in the end with Dean managing two to over 30lb and myself landing the one in the 20s. No monsters this time but a very busy enjoyable session and hopefully a sign of what the rest of the year is going to be like.
Kelly Smith also enjoyed an excellent run on the tope lately, landing three fish to 43lb! They really are running well this year and there’s plenty of time left to get a big specimen, though for now, I’m just happy to have confirmed that lighting really does strike twice!