Every angler has a story of how they have got to being the angler they are now. So intertwined with our lives is our hobby that the fishing can often come to define us as much as we define it. The opening to many of these stories is the same, an introduction to angling at a young age by one’s father, and this story is no different in that respect, we just start the opposite side of the world, down under, in Australia.
At a very young age, Simon Waldram was regularly shown fantastic catches his dad had experienced on his time on the ships, having been a part of the Navy. One particular memory was of a shark his dad had managed to tempt with nothing more than a bit of bacon! Goes to show that the forces does teach resourcefulness!
A further likeness to many UK anglers origins was Simon starting off fishing the local estuaries, except far from the quarry of flounder and small bass we cut our teeth on here, Simon would have to contend with large flat head and stingray! As with any estuary, crabs would be present, but the pest for Simon would be the big blue mud crabs. Small mullet and herring would be caught in a cast net for bait and the past time would soon be taking its grip on Simon like it has on the rest of us.
Everyone has that one fish that secures their life long addiction to angling and for Simon, that was a fish of many anglers dreams, a GT, or giant trevally to give it the full name. Whilst no beast by GT standards, it was a respectable and extremely hard fighting fish of 12lb, caught to a free lined herring and amazingly landed single handedly by Simon at just the age of seven! The bug was really had by this stage and the tussle with the trevally only left Simon wanting bigger, harder fighting fish.
Before long, Simon found himself invited on to some boats targeting jewfish (giant grouper) at night, then moving on to various shark, marlin and tuna species. Having started to experience these fish from the boats, the urge was there to secure them from the shore too, which is when the fun really started. Big sharks would be pursued from the beaches whilst an annual trip down to some rocks near Sydney would offer the chance of a hook up of a black marlin from the shore, some reach as much as 100kg.
The diversity of shark to target was considerable. Regular targets would include grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, silver tip sharks, tiger sharks, great hammerheads and even rare lined lantern sharks, though these are a small species next to the rest! Some species of shark certainly weren’t targeted but were inevitably going to turn up on occasion, namely great whites. It was and is entirely illegal to land one, but it was two hours into a fight with one before Simon realised from the tell tale dorsal fin, thus going for a hook pull. He’d been fighting it with a flat rod and strapped on to a yute to prevent being dragged in! Estimates had placed the fish at around 1200lb and we suspect that has the fish decided to head for deeper water rather than continue to roam up and fdown the beach, the fight would have been over much sooner. You have to wonder how much force must be exerted to make a fish that size even realise it is hooked at first.
Most of the sharking, and the set up that had been connected to the great white, utilised a Shimano bent butt 80lb glass rod paired with a Penn International 80 wide reel. This had beached tigers to around the 600lb mark. Heavy gear really was the name of the game for this extreme shore fishing.
The annual trips to Sydney chasing the black marlin were always exciting, with a regular supply of live baits kept in a kids swimming pool inflated on the rocks. Hook ups with the marlin weren’t the hardest bit to come by, landing them was! With their acrobatic nature leading to many a lost fish but an exciting experience in the mean time. Most boats back up to marlin too, an impossibility when targeting them from the shore. Rarely a marlin would also become the hunted, falling foul to a passing large shark where only half a marlin would be recovered!
Despite all of the sensational big fish to be had in Australia, Simon still recalls flat head as his favourite species, no doubt one of the worlds ugliest fish but also one of the tastiest, plus, we all have a soft spot for those species we first got to grips fishing for. Meanwhile, the most memorable session in Australia for Simon yielded three stingray, a couple of bronze whalers and a tiger shark in just a 12 hour session.
Life events soon led Simon far from home, and after travelling around Europe for a few years he found himself in Majorca. Six weeks recovering from an operation left Simon restless and bored, so taking a stroll down to the local jetty he regularly witnessed tourists with ill equipped experience or gear getting spooled by a mix of butterfly ray and what Simon knew from his Australian days as Queen fish, but would appear to have been something more along the lines of garrick/leer fish in European waters.
Witnessing such fish being lost was all the motivation required to get back to fishing. The gear was certainly scaled down from the days down under. A basic telescopic rod and a cheap Ryobi spinning reel loaded with 12lb line was all that was required for Simon to land his first fish in European waters, a butterfly ray around the 20lb mark. A relative baby to what he could go on to catch of this species some years later.
Simon didn’t hang around Majorca long. Yet another relocation saw him settle into life in Slovakia, but he was now a massive 800km from the nearest bit of sea and thus any thirst for fishing would have to be met via the local carp lakes. One small snag in this respect would be the license that had to be obtained for doing so. Unlike the UK, a Slovakian license would require passing a test, written in Slovakian, of which Simon didn’t read or speak a word of at the time!
Stuck in an old log cabin cafe, a bit of paper in front of him which could have said anything for as much as Simon could decipher from it, his chances of carrying out any angling seemed slim. Fortunately there was another way to pass this exam. Simon whipped out a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label and the examiner promptly signed this license!
Before long, a learning curve on how to read the bottom, a whole change in baits and rigs from anything he was used to before and frankly miniature hooks ensued. Commons and mirrors were had with fair frequency, 30lb being a good fish though the majority of a much lower stamp. The odd Asian grass carp would spice things up a bit, especially with a predisposition to getting foul hooked and then going absolutely berserk! A 6 hour drive to the Danube offered the chance of bigger, hard fighting wild river carp and perhaps some big catfish, but one the couple of trips Simon made it was never to be.
It wasn’t the end of the line for sea fishing for Simon though, the intrepid traveller had a few more moves in his book yet, and having started as far south on the globe as Australia, his next stop would take him as far north as Iceland! A true globe trotter now by anyones standards. It was a location where Simon could truly rekindle his passion for sea fishing, with a diversity and quantity of fish to match anywhere, even if in pure size terms it was never going to live up to his time down under.
Wolf fish, cod, hadock, coalfish, dab, plaice and even the odd small red fish, starry ray and halibut made up for the bulk of the catch in Iceland, with visits to ‘black beach’ producing plenty of spur dogs too. Nearly all of these fish were caught on a bait as yet introduced to the UK – Bluey, or Pacific Saury to give it the correct name. Steve Mason, also residing in Iceland at the time, was credited by Simon as introducing the super oily bait to the UK, after a long and successful history as a long line bait in Iceland.
It was a first visit to black beach, chasing spurs, that stands long in Simon’s memory from his time in Iceland. You’d think it would be down to the successful catch of 12 spur dogs on his first attempt at the species, but instead it’s rather unfortunately down to the first one setting it’s barb into his arm! Considering it’s meant to be a fairly extreme pain, we’re pretty impressed Simon continued to fish, let along beach a further 11 of the species, though, Simon’s certainly not one for giving up.
Whilst the majority of his Icelandic fishing was done from the shore, Simon remained well versed in boat fishing too, joining Dave Barham on a feature trip for the brilliant but sadly no longer Boat Fishing Monthly on one occasion, a trip we’re reliably informed had many a fun moment that should not go into print!
Two and a half years later and you can guess by now, Simon was on the move again! This time to a venue he is perhaps now synonymous with, Fuerteventura in the Canaries. In a location ever growing in popularity, you can probably trace most peoples first fishing exploits to the island back to Simon. With relatively untapped potential, it certainly didn’t take him long to have the rods back out on the Island.
The majority of the locals on the island lure fish, perhaps doing a bit of float fishing. Bonito are the usual target, the odd one lucky enough to land a blue fish without being bitten off, whilst bream are also taken for the table. Fishing for the larger species is a sketchy issue on the island, as whilst certain species cannot be targeted, you really cannot control what takes a bait. For instance, there are numerous species of stingray but not all are protected, so some can be targeted. If a restricted species is landed as by-catch, one should simply ensure it is unhooked and returned to the water promptly.
Simon’s first fish on the island was a huge gar fish around the 4lb mark, that took a live float fished boga, but it was a first session fishing a now very well known ray beach on the island that opened Simon’s eyes to the true potential for big shore fish to be had. One session produced 6 stingray of a number of different species, ranging from 30lb all the way up to 150lb. Whilst Simon had always known of the stingray population here, he had no idea what sort of size they would come out at. Thus, beaching a 150lb ray on the first serious attempt came as a bit of a shock, but one that would set the tone for the coming years.
Numerous sessions produced multiple priceless memories. Ray to over 200lb amongst them and smoothound north of 50lb, but it’s certainly an island of ‘the one that got away’. Such is the frequency of unstoppable fish moving in on a mark and catching people by surprise that the majority of those that have fished the island will have a story of their own. Simon has several! One fish had him going for 6 hours, the fight nothing like what would be expected from a ray. Several ray have been hooked and lost after tightening down the drag close to spooling. Bearing in mind some of the harbour resident ray are estimated at up to 600lb and the biggest known to be landed on the island is estimated somewhere between 300 and 350lb, it’s probably safe to say bigger have been hooked and lost on many occasions. Meanwhile, the odd session always pops up besieged by solid hard running fish that eventually rub through heavy leaders, suspected to be sizeable hammerheads tail wrapping. It’s hard to scale up for these without it being seen to be outright targeting them, another restricted fish.
Simon was certainly back to his roots with fishing like this. The gear was no longer stand up gear but the heavier end of conventional beach casters and large shore casting multipliers with high breaking strain 0.5mm line straight through. Finally though, Simon would be able to witness a proper fight after years away from those tough fighting fish down under. He’d also obliterate that very first fish in European waters, with numerous bigger butterfly ray to be had on the island. It’s a venue that certainly left him spoilt once more, but yet again it was a venue to learn, to refine his knowledge and to overcome new obstacles. Some obstacles weren’t for overcoming though, namely big rocks causing damage to sump tanks… some of the better marks do require a degree of off roading to get to!
Aside from the fishing, it was the dark skies of Fuerteventura that opened Simon up to a second hobby, one which perhaps more people now know him for than his fishing; astro photography. Having been featured in several airlines in flight magazines, boat fishing monthly, Artcraft, a BBC sky at night photographer book, several Finnish astro photography magazines, Outdoor Photographer and nominated for astro photographer of the year as well as National Geographic shot of the day, it’s fair to say Simon has mastered a pair of hobbies. His astro photography really is on another level, and offers the most sensational backdrops to any fishing photo.
It would be fair to say Simon had mastered the island, knowing nearly every last bay and point of it before making his final move, to the UK, where he now resides at the home of the European Open Beach Championships in Bridlington.
The fishing may not be quite to the standard Simon once again grew used to, but it is another opportunity to learn and adapt. Fishing 350ft up a cliff is certainly a new experience! His best UK fish to date has been a fine 13lb 10oz thornback, but we’re sure more are to come. He’s certainly not an angler averse to travelling and intends to cover as much of the UK as possible next year hunting out the countries true monster fish from the shore. Whether that be skate in Scotland, or joining the attempts for shore caught porbeagles, you can be sure he’ll have a crack at it all, and even more of a certainty is there will be some stunning imagery to accompany it along the way.
To check out more of Simon’s astro-photography, check out his facebook page: Simon Waldram Photography. We’ve even embedded it below for quick reference. His printed canvases are often cheaper than a sub standard image on a canvas from Ikea, so do check them out. Also, as he intends to travel round the country, if there’s a favoured location of yours you’d love a night scene of, drop him a message and something may be able to be worked out if the ask is not urgent.