From the first day I laid my hands on a fishing rod, nothing grabbed my imagination and inspired me more than the thought of catching new and relatively rare species. The knowledge, skill and time you put into targeting a new fish is always exciting and it is so rewarding when you do manage to get one on the end of your line. Every year I try and make a list of what I want to target. I would research locations, bait, rigs, feeding habits and tides which would help me in my pursuit! So, when I was invited to join a group of fishermen who were headed to Penzance for two days on a species hunt, I just couldn’t resist.
The trip started around midday. We all arrived at the designated meeting point and once we were loaded onto the minibus the discussion quickly turned to the many fish we wanted to catch or even see! The weather and conditions for the two days were spot on with a very gentle breeze, bright sun and high temperatures forecast. Once we had arrived on day one the plan was to set off in the early hours to target some rod bending action in the way of blue sharks. Once the kit was loaded onto the boat It was a couple hours before we reached the chosen area, so everyone had time to tackle up appropriately with their bottom rods. We didn’t have to worry too much about the sharking gear as we were provided with this by the skipper.
As soon as we arrived the skipper gave us the go ahead so most of us had opted to drop down with baited feathers. It didn’t take long for everyone to start getting amongst the fish. Full strings of whiting and gurnards of varying species were wound up from the depths and while this was happening the very experienced skipper was tackling up the shark rods and preparing the rubby dubby. Plenty of bran, oils and fish remains all mixed into one super-duper disgusting mess that the toothy critters we were targeting surely couldn’t resist…. it made a fantastic slick on the surface and any shark in the area surely couldn’t stay away for too long! Soon we had plenty of baits for the day ahead, mostly being whiting.
I continued to fish on the bottom for the chance of a megrim which was on “the list”! The sharks homed in pretty much straight away with a nice one of over 70lb coming to the side of the boat within ten minutes of the baits being in the water. What a start! While this was happening, I was still fishing away for a “golden” flatty but with no prevail due to the shear amount of whiting tearing at the baits before the rig could even settle. That being said, the odd gurnard managed to get themselves on the hook and I also achieved a first for myself in the shape of an octopus. A few more sharks came up on the slick and my turn for a “blue” was next. I ran to the rod hoping for a good scrap… but that didn’t happen.
It didn’t run but came in very green and feisty. To my surprise and everyone else’s amusement, it was a baby blue shark weighing in at no more than 10 to 15lb. It was unbelievable and quite funny to see it thrashing around as we t-barred it off the hook. We didn’t have much time to laugh about my great catch though as the rod that was positioned the furthest from the boat signalled a ripping run and it wasn’t long before it was bent into a good fish. It came straight up to the surface and started swimming around the boat. After a good tug of war, it showed itself, a good blue estimated at around 140lb that did encourage everyone else to remind me of the pup I had just tamed! After the excitement of that rather impressive blue had subsided, I jumped back on my bottom fishing rod having been told that slack tide is best for something different to bite as the whiting will back off… which they did.
Not a whiting in sight at this point which was a relief. A couple of stunningly, vibrant red gurnards managed to hang themselves and of course the obligatory dogfish but no megrim. I soon decided that was enough of that and concentrated on helping with the shark fishing operation, flappering the baits ready and smashing up the ground bait. Dolphins and plenty of sea birds were crashing into bait fish around us, not phased by the blues circling the floats on the surface and soon I was into my second shark of the day. This was a better fish with it making several runs while trying to evade its inevitable photo shoot! We ended the first day with a total of eleven sharks. Ten of them were blues and the other being a chunky porbeagle that we caught at last knockings. What a fantastic way to end the first day of our Penzance experience.
Day two came about and this was the day I had been really looking forward to… an all-out species hunt! We made our way straight to a mark that the skipper Kieren had told us a few megrim sole had been showing at, so we started the drift fishing in depths up to 150ft! Using a very simple two hook flowing trace with minimal bling and attractors. Just a single glowing bead with a size 1 Aberdeen hook. Using the mackerel we had caught the day before as bait gave us the best chance possible! I put my rig down on the bottom and concentrated hard as our host happened to mention that they have a very shy bite, and you must give them time to get the bait down them. To my surprise I had a bite, I let it have some line and could still feel the tugging on the end, so I put the reel into gear and wound down gently into the fish.
That old feeling of some form of resistance on the line had my brain somersaulting wondering just what it might be. I kept a steady pressure on the the retrieve and to my absolute joy I could see a small, light-coloured flatty coming up from the bottom! A megrim, first drop, first bite, first fish, I was understandably elated! Many photos were taken but it didn’t finish there as one of the other guys onboard managed another one, this one being even bigger! Huge cheers and pats on back were shared but there was still the chance of other unusual species and specimens, so we got back to the job in hand.
We continued to drift with many bites happening when the other party we were with but on a different boat called over the radio and suggested that we should head over to their position due to the fact they were getting tucked into some beautiful couches bream! We didn’t take much convincing so after a quick, unanimous vote the engines were fired up and we steamed over. We ended being with in an underarm cast away from our other group, so the anchor was dropped, and the anticipation was high! On this mark we had to fish slightly differently so after a bit of advice from the skipper we went down with a 40lb fluorocarbon trace, six foot long with pennel hooks both 5/0 in size and using a whole squid wrapped up with bait elastic to secure it in position. We all dropped down and within seconds one of the boys had a very distinctive enquiry on his rod tip.
Pulling and tugging away, whatever it was had the skipper running to get his net and with one definitive swoop the fish was in the net! A stunning couches bream! I had never before seen so many beautiful colours on one fish so after setting my eyes upon this one it gave me the boost I needed to fish and concentrate even harder. I focused on the braid which I had in the tips of my fingers, dwelling on every twitch and vibration that filtered its way up my line. Ten or more minutes went by when I got a very sharp bite, again and again it hit so I pulled hard into the fish and didn’t stop winding! Fish on! I kept the pressure on thinking “don’t you lose this fish”.
It broke the surface and before I could blink the fish was in the back of the net! The smile on my face was so big. It was my first couches bream! We quickly got it in a bucket of fresh sea water as to not stress the fish out too much. There she sat, three and a half pound of solid, ruby coloured bream! I couldn’t believe my luck, two amazing species in one session! We ended up with four bream in total with an incredibly rare triple shot photo. The skipper, who was hot on the fishing asked, “anything else you want to tick off the list boys?” Which we Jokily replied with “ling” due to the fact they are a rarity up our way. “Say no more” Kieran pulled up the anchor and we flew out to a wreck which wasn’t too far away. We all tackled up and using the remaining whiting and mackerel baits from the morning we took positions and dropped down onto the wreck slowly lifting the baits as they bounced towards the broken remnants of what would have a been a fine ship in days gone by.
Myself, keen as anything to smash another species off the list listened to every word the skipper said. “Not too fast” “drop the bait now!” It wasn’t long before I was into a very feisty fish. After a good scrap a wreck hugging ling popped up from the depths and just like that the ling came on the feed with triple hook ups on most drifts. Unfortunately, we had to end the wrecking due to a change in the tide but nobody went away without a few lovely long and chunky fillets to take back home with them. We ended the day on a small, inshore reef targeting anything that was around. Fishing hard on the bottom was producing the usual dogfish and the odd conger but a long trace just off the deck with small slithers of mackerel were picking up plenty of gurnards and cuckoo wrasse. We had decided to have a kitty amongst ourselves for the angler who could bag themselves the most species on the day so I decided that as I was in the running, I would go down with a vertical jig to potentially grab one of the coal fish that inhabit these reefs at this time of year.
I paid out the line until I felt the jig hit the bottom then gradually worked the lure just off the bottom. After the first couple of upward swings, I was into a fish. It turned out to be a pollock. This theme continued with plenty of fish between 4-5lb which was great fun on the light Penn rods that we were supplied with on the day. After a few more fish I decided to give up on the coal fish and concentrate on targeting a few more differing species. The skipper at this point hooked into something that was pulling back hard on the feathers he was using to help us get some fresh bait and to my disbelief he pulled up a pollock and a lovely dark coal fish! Just my luck! We ended the day and headed back in for a well-deserved drink and to analyse what had happened over the last two days. Obviously, the conversation centred around the superb species fishing we had just experienced. We had all put money in for the best specimen and most species caught.
The best specimen fish was awarded to the beautiful couches bream weighing 4.11lb which was more than deserving of the prize. I managed to take the kitty for having the most species. My tally sat at eleven with a mixture of species you would never normally expect to see from my neck of the woods.
Quicker than I would have liked our two-day fishing holiday had come to an end so after a sleep and a good solid breakfast we headed back home. I’ve fished twice now on “Lokie Adventures”, and I have not been disappointed. We have booked up for the next couple of years making Penzance our new Alderney. We are very much looking forward to the fishing already and can’t wait to try and scratch a few more rare species off the fish list. The imperial scald fish is one I would absolutely love to notch off and I know they have been caught from that area but that will have to wait though… Penzance… see you next year!