On the 18th September lure anglers from all over the UK, and further afield, took part in the inaugural ‘Big Lerf’. This was to be a weekend of light lure fishing across the country, a digital and physical get together of those who like to fish with finesse.
This wasn’t a competition, there were no prizes for biggest fish or most species. Instead the aim was to collectively catch as many species from salt and freshwater on lures as possible. Created to fill the void of competitions like The Cornish Lure Festival, the idea quickly formed a life of it’s own, going well beyond the modest intentions we had for it. So many anglers took part, with those who couldn’t join us in Cornwall, taking part via social media.
The beauty was in it’s simplicity – all you had to do was fish between 12pm on Friday 18th September and 6pm on Sunday 20th, upload your picture to Facebook or Instagram and tag #THEBIGLERF2020. Then your fish would be counted towards the overall total. As a bonus, you could join myself, Richard Salter, Joe Mole and Will Pender in Cornwall, socially distanced of course. We were quite careful over the weekend to avoid anything that could be construed as a social gathering, with the benefit of the natural distance that lure fishing puts between anglers whilst fishing.
Excitedly we kicked things off on the Friday afternoon. The clock was ticking to catch as many species as possible, from as many locations as we could fit into that time frame. Mine and Richard’s personal targets were to catch over 20 species for the weekend. As agreed for me driving us around, Rich and Joe had paid for the digs. Those digs were a rather tight hostel at The Eden Project that just about squeezed the three of us in… It was certainly the first time any of us had slept in a shipping container!
The first day was dominated by a brutal Easterly wind, a real enemy of fishing light. We did well on our first mark, being joined by Dave Taylor, catching black and giant gobies with ease. These feisty mini predators rarely let a lure get away and it didn’t take long for us all to tick off two species, plus a bonus sand goby for Joe and I.
We swiftly moved on to Mevagissey, only to find the waves breaking over the harbour wall! Joe still managed to catch a pollock and a shanny there – quite impressively to be honest!
We moved onto the much more sheltered mark of Polkerris and that’s where the fun really began. As more anglers joined us the species started coming in nicely. I managed a really chunky female corkwing wrasse, mackerel, garfish, pollock and a baby tub gurnard, putting me on a healthy eight species. All being tempted on either dropshotted Marukyu Isome or Majorcraft Jigpara Slim 5g metal jigs. We were joined by some of the original Cornish LRF crew, Will Pender, Luke Fox, Josh Fletcher to name a few, these guys have been at it for years, it’s always a pleasure to fish with them.
All around me, anglers were getting to know each other and war stories and tips were being shared. It was exactly what the doctor ordered and made me feel incredibly thankful for the warm welcoming LRF scene we have – as niche as it is! There were some really quiet periods, not helped by the many teenagers jumping off the wall and bathers in the water. As the sun started to drop though Rich had something really special. I got the call of ‘couches!’ and leapt down to see it. Although only a baby by the species’ standards, a couches bream is a rare LRF catch. There in Richard’s hands, was a pink, red and blue jewel, a rather special capture. Keen to get on the bream action we all started to focus our Dropshot and Carolina rigs over the sand, with both Rich and I successful in finding another bream species, this time some miniature black bream. The species count was going well.
We then topped up our energy levels with pizza and energy drink (this event was unofficially sponsored by carbonated drinks loaded with caffeine). It was then our chance to settle in for the night in Fowey, ready to fish low water under the moonlight. We came across Will, Luke, Josh and the rest plus Mervyn was there – one of our favourite characters from last year’s Cornish Lure Festival. We fished the usual spots, I got lucky in ticking off both the flounder and bass in quick succession. The flounder taking a Gulp Pulseworm almost as big as itself.
In the shallows, illuminated by my headtorch, I could see tiny dragonets, painted gobies and many hermit crabs – some nearly as big as my fist! It was magical to see. I rigged on my size 22 hook to nylon, with a single BB shot for weight, coupled with a pinch of pink Isome. The little dragons were quite picky but the even smaller painted gobies were far more ravenous. It didn’t take long to hook one, shining my light on this minuscule fish, rather insignificant to most observers. This small species truly lives up to it’s painted moniker, the white saddles, blue splotches and red stripes on the dorsal fin all look handcrafted, lovingly applied by the finest brush. Rich’s eyesight is less attuned to scratching around for tiny gobies so I had to be his eyes as he targeted them, we soon got him his first ever painted goby.
We were now in the early hours of the morning chasing scad, mackerel and bass in deeper water, I never tire of catching the hard fighting armour plated scad. Joe was doing well, tempting out mackerel and dragonets in the shallow water. Richard, being less comfortable micro fishing the darkness due to his eyesight, instead focused on trying to find a herring, with only many, many pollock and mackerel finding his lures instead. Being nearly 2am, it was great just to keep busy!
Will Pender had joined me lighting up the shallows with my headtorch, we both got really excitable when we spotted a group of tiny turbot. Now turbot can grow to monstrous sizes but some of these were no bigger than a 50p coin. Still, when species hunting it’s not the size that counts! So using a speck of pink Isome on a size 22 we took to tempting them. They were typical turbot, although tiny, they were greedy! We both hooked one, marvelling at their perfection in miniature. Certainly not going to impress the average angler but if you know, you know! After the little turbo excitement we were knackered and it was clearly time to head to our shipping container. I had enjoyed the perfect start, 15 species in one day, so I was out like a light as soon as my head hit the pillow!
We weren’t of course the only anglers fishing that weekend, we had Age Lundstrom in Plymouth catching herring, bass and pollock under the city lights. Glenn Triscott, Maurice Mitchinton, Clive Sharpe and Matt Geldard representing the rest of the Plymouth Massive – Matt taking a dip in the sea for his troubles! David Ford and Lee Jackson were ticking off the elusive (well not to them!) baillons wrasse – in fact Lee had 17! I have never even had one! An astonishing effort. Coalfish and codling were being ticked off by the northern lads. The updates on social media were coming thick and fast and it felt incredibly satisfying to see all these anglers come together. I haven’t even got to the freshwater lads yet – more on that in a moment.
We were joined in the morning at a very rough Charlestown by Scott McCarthy, a keen LRF angler who is relatively new to the game. Scott had driven down from Wales in the hope of catching ten species. Charlestown was awful to be honest, with even the local weever fish staying away. Rich did manage a baby bass to boost his tally though, so it wasn’t completely wasted time. Our next move was to the north coast, hoping to find some montagu’s blennies in the rockpools there. This involved nearly an hour’s drive and some real trekking to get to the mark, but we hoped it would be worth it. We were all really feeling the fatigue at that point, having only really got four hours of sleep the night before.
The rockpools were worth it though, in between naps on the rocks we found montagu’s and common blennies, rock gobies and some more giant gobies – classic Cornish rockpool inhabitants. The ‘Montys’ were a little stubborn but eventually we could tick them off and head to Hayle. Now Hayle was a complete unknown to us, we had heard good things but had never given it the time. After another long drive we arrived to find Will Pender on the opposite bank, still and watchful as a heron – he catches as many fish as one too! On our side was the dynamic duo of Matt Barnsley and Danny Hill. These chaps joined the previous year’s CLF and are both brilliant anglers and top blokes, we bumped into them many times over the weekend. They informed us that the tompot blennies and wrasse were on the feed, just the news we wanted to hear.
It was a feeding frenzy to be honest, every drop was followed by THUMP THUMP or RATTLE RATTLE, it was mini species heaven. I rapidly reached my target of twenty species by finding rock gobies, ballan wrasse, tompot blennies and goldsinny wrasse. To say I was feeling buoyant would be an understatement. The other guys were finding fish too, boosting their tallies. All that was missing from the action was a scorpion fish, we never did find one there despite how good the ground looked.
While we were hauling in the sea species, anglers across the country were finding the fresher varieties. Neil Sutherland (of Aquazid Studio fame – seriously check him out) and friends were using their talents to catch rudd, roach and dace. Stephen Ditchy added chub, pike and perch, Alan Fielding found a lovely looking brown trout. Ben Coleman tempted a few really special catches in the form of grayling, brown trout, dace and even a minnow. The efforts these anglers were putting in was really inspiring. It was clear the final total was going to be something quite special.
Next up was Falmouth, another forty five minute drive away. We were heading there to find poor cod and most hopefully – the ever elusive topknot. Once we got there and down to business, avoiding the many, many inebriated students wondering about, we found the poor cod frustratingly picky. It was as if they turned into mullet, they were so picky we didn’t catch one all evening! I did manage a chunky scorpion though, which for a second I believed was a topknot. It was definitely lively though and I don’t just mean from the students! I managed to hook my first ever squid, a rather small one but cool nonetheless. Pollock were everywhere and Joe managed one of the rarest catches all weekend – a dragonet caught on a metal! It was a truly mad catch.
Matt and Danny were in Falmouth too and, needing a scorp’ I pointed them to my spot I had caught one from. What did Matt find? Of course it was a topknot, his first ever. He was over the moon with the quirky flatfish and rightly so! We moved through the town to find the other pier, dodging drunken skateboarders and over excited freshers. To the soundtrack of a mumbling paralytic man who resembled a heroin addicted Santa Claus, we caught whiting, smelt and scad. It was quite the surreal experience, especially as we grew more tired. We had to call it a night. I was now on 24 species, I could have packed up there and then and gone home, what a weekend I was having.
Scott and Dave had met up in Fowey that night, catching bass and pollock in good numbers. It was a mark we would be trying first thing in hope of a flounder for the lads. We woke up feeling a little more refreshed, checking out of the shipping containers for one last hit. Scott joined us again and we fished a bustling Fowey, with little to show for our efforts besides mackerel and a lost garfish. Rich did manage to find the dragonet he was craving though. With the tide dropping and time pushing on, it was time to try a beach mark.
The hope was to find a weever fish or turbot, either would have been ideal as we bounced our small metal jigs across the sand. Richard and Joe both found the small but venomous weever to add to their totals. I looked on enviously. One highlight of that location was a huge splash only 100 yards out, Richard’s GoPro caught the culprit, a monstrous bluefin tuna, easily 500lb! Probably a little out of our league, we instead found a large rockpool that held much smaller giants – of the goby variety. Scott caught his first ever giant gobies, which I always think is a rite of passage when fishing ultralight in Cornwall.
The final stop would be Mevagissey, we had unfinished business there. This idyllic fishing town is hell to drive through, with tourists almost begging to be run over! Luckily I resisted the urge to give a few a shunt with the car and we got to business. It was a lovely chilled fish to be honest, we had a few close calls with garfish and a ballan took a liking to Scott’s Majorcraft Slow Jig. Mervyn had the best fish though as a 2lb 8oz brute of a ballan wrasse took his soft plastic crayfish. It was my honour to net it for him, a personal best for Merv – no wonder he loves Meva! Scott had reached ten species and I declared at 24 (plus a squid), Rich ran me close with 21, Joe had a brilliant first Cornish weekend with 16 species.
So to count up all the UK species caught, the total stood at 44 on lure/artificial from salt and freshwater. That’s a phenomenal tally for just over 48 hours. A huge thank you to everyone who took part, there will definitely be a Big Lerf’ 2021. A big shout out as well to the anglers joining in abroad in Bulgaria, Norway, Sweden and beyond, that’s something we will be hoping to expand upon next year.
The UK species were: