There are some people in this life that simply live and breathe fishing and I’m pretty sure that Aaron Lidstone is one such person. From chasing large carp on syndicate lakes to drifting offshore wrecks in the English Channel for big pollack and bass, Aaron is your man. I first came across Aaron more than twenty years ago whilst drinking endless cups of coffee and talking all things fishing in the Plymouth institution that was Clive’s Tackle and Bait. Apart from his limitless jokes and pranks (let’s just say some of the coffee tasted slightly fishy), the one thing that always shone through with Aaron was his infectious nature for anything fishing or fish-related.
Being a Janner lad and having boat fished for most of his life, Aaron soon joined the rank of private boat owners and by taking guidance from some very good teachers and old heads that had been chartering for many years, he was soon amassing a very impressive list of captures from his own boats fishing the various reefs and wrecks out of Plymouth. This culminated in Aaron taking the opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream and becoming a full-time charter skipper aboard several different boats before taking delivery of his purpose designed and built 9.95m Cheetah Cat called ‘Happy Days’. Having been lucky enough to fish on Happy Days, she provides a vast amount of deck space and the twin outboard set-up means faster travelling and ultimately more fishing time.
Seeing how a good days chartering would often lead to numbers of fish being left on the boat and going to waste (word has it his whole street became quite fond of pollack), Aaron decided to bite the bullet and purchase a licence and pretty much go full-time commercial rod and line. As anglers we all get precious over the issue of protecting our fish stocks but rod and line commercial fishing is certainly one of the most sustainable forms there is when compared to the damage that the large factory trawlers do.
Having forged out a very successful career as a commercial fisherman for a number of years now, I was both surprised and intrigued to see a recent update on Facebook from Aaron announcing his decision to switch back to chartering, with the birth of ‘Happy Days Adventure Fishing’. I decided it was time for a catch-up with the man himself to see what was behind the recent change and what his future plans were…
SS: You have had a very successful commercial fishing career – why the change to chartering now?
AL: The biggest buzz I get as a skipper is seeing someone catch their ‘fish of a lifetime’, be it a large shark, double-figure bass or a ton-up eel. That’s what excites me more than anything else and it’s probably down to the fact that I will always consider myself as an angler first. I know this probably sounds a bit corny but that’s the truth. I love nothing more than anchoring a wreck for big eels or drifting for sharks and chartering allows me to do both of these things. Also being successful on the commercial side often means travelling to where the fish are, basically chasing the fish. This means often staying away from home for long periods which can get tiring. By going back to more regular chartering I’m able to get back to doing what I love and being able to sleep in my own bed (having seen the bunks on Happy Days I can see the appeal of this)!
SS: What makes fishing out of the port of Plymouth so special to you?
AL: I will always be biased but I believe Plymouth is still one of the best (if not the best) charter port in the country. I’ve seen all sides of it, from the massive catches in the 80’s and 90’s and going back through the years undoubtedly there were more fish. However, from the commercial side I’ve seen the potential of some of these more distant wrecks and there are still those trophy fish out there to be had if you are willing to travel. Boundaries are there to be pushed and Plymouth, as a base, allows you to do that. We also have access to some really great fishing on the inshore reefs such as the Eddystone and Hands Deep so it’s not all about having to steam for hours and hours to find good fishing. I certainly believe we have some of the best eel fishing in the U.K. out of Plymouth due to the large number of wrecks we can access.
SS: Who has had the biggest influence on you as both a commercial fisherman and now as a charter skipper?
AL: Without doubt the advice and guidance provided by the Plymouth angling legend Clive Way was very instrumental and I’m lucky enough to not only benefit from his advice and guidance as a mentor but also as a very good friend. I’m also old enough to have experienced fishing with the likes of Bill Warner, Barry Hoskins and Graham Hannaford who were all exceptional skippers and legends of the UK charter boat industry and really put Plymouth on the map. They all wanted to push the boundaries in respect of putting anglers on the fish – if they had to steam an extra couple of hours to get to that virgin conger wreck then that’s what they did. It wasn’t about the financial benefits to them – these guys just wanted to be the best and were extremely driven and that is what I want for anglers fishing with me.
SS: What type of fishing excites you as an angler (what makes you tick)? What are your aims and personal goals as a charter boat skipper?
AL: Anyone who knows me will tell you, I like fishing for those species that like to fight back hard so eels, sharks, bass etc. However, to me it’s about making it a fair fight between the angler and the fish so I do like to use light balanced tackle. For instance I don’t think there is anything better than catching blue sharks on good quality spinning tackle. Fishing with tackle which doesn’t give the fish a sporting chance isn’t for me. I guess it’s’ that hunter instinct in all of us – the joy of the challenge.
One of my personal goals is to get a ‘ton-up’ eel on the deck of Happy Days. We have been close several times and over the past 7 years I have had 6 eels over 90lb with the biggest at 96lb but never that 100lb’er. That’s one of my main goals – the eels are there, it’s simply a case of putting in the time and effort. Another thing that interests me is fishing really deep water for species like 6-gill sharks and I’m also keen to see if I could land a 100lb+ skate from Plymouth as I know from my commercial contacts that they are out there. That would be pretty cool.
SS: What do you think will set you aside from the rest as a charter skipper?
AL: It’s probably worth mentioning that over the past few years I have been chartering on and off so it’s not really a case of this being something new to me.
The one thing many people who know me well will tell you is that I’m extremely competitive and always want to do a job to the best of my ability. If we are out on a charter and the fishing has switched on close to the end of the trip then I will always say to the guys I’m happy to stay on a bit longer if everyone is in agreement. I’m not a clock-watcher – I’m an angler and it’s all about giving the guys on-board the best possible chance of getting their dream fish. If that means me getting back into the dock a few hours later than planned then that’s how it is.
To me it’s not about the financial benefits – if it was then I would just continue full-time commercial fishing. It’s about going that extra mile.
SS: What do you think the greatest pressures currently facing the UK charter boat industry?
AL: As we all know, fuel prices are going through the roof at the moment and nobody knows where it will end. This is having a knock-on impact in terms of the cost of trips (particularly when we travel well offshore) and I am worried that UK charter boat fishing will simply become unaffordable for the average man or woman in the street. Added to that the increase in moorings, insurance etc. That is a big worry for all of us charter skippers.
SS: Having worked on the commercial side for a number of years, what changes do you think are required in respect of current legislation to safeguard our sport?
AL: We have to restrict the number of larger foreign vessels working in areas of UK waters where presently our own fleet are not permitted to work. That can’t be right! We also need a total ban on the large factory trawlers which are decimating our stocks of mackerel and other bait fish. The decline in mackerel stocks over the past few years is very worrying. These ships are doing massive damage and more often due to their size, are still able to fish when all of our local vessels are tied to the quay due to bad weather.
Something that has never made any sense to me is discards, throwing perfectly edible fish back over the side due to quotas. I think vessels should be allowed to land such fish and sell them at a reduced price, with the majority of any profit being reinvested back into fisheries to fund enforcement and the boat taking a smaller cut of the profit. Restrictions are only good if they are enforced.
Closed seasons for when fish are spawning is something else we need to consider. A short break for when fish are spawning would have a massive impact although like anything you need to assess what the knock-on impacts would be for those who may rely on fishing a particular area or species which would be subject to such restrictions.
For example we have had restrictions on bass fishing over the past few years and now bass numbers are increasing year-on-year. A coincidence? I think we all appreciate that fish stocks have gone down over the years and we have to look after and manage what we have for the longer term.
SS: Finally, I’m a newbie stepping on your boat for the first time. What’s the single most important bit of advice you would offer for someone out fishing with you for the first time?
AL: Listen to your skipper and always notice what is going on around you. If someone on-board is regularly catching and you aren’t, see what that person is doing differently to you. Colour of the lure they are using? Speed of retrieve? There is a reason why they are catching and you aren’t so follow what they are doing. They say fishing can be down to luck but I don’t always believe that – I do think you can make your own luck so always be willing to change and adapt. Those people are often the most successful anglers.
SS: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Aaron. I’m sure the readers will be interested to hear your story and good luck for the future.
Happy Days Adventure Fishing