The Freedom Sessions

In his first trips out since the lockdown Liam Faisey describes some great sport

Lockdown was a testing time for us salty sea dogs. Land-locked with no fishing and no indication of when we may return to our beloved pastime. The weeks ticked by and I pondered on what the first steps may be for us to return to kayak fishing and boat fishing in general.

Kayak fishing lends itself well to social distancing, even when you are with a friend or in a small group. You can easily set up and launch by yourself, and keep distance from others with you. You are on your own craft and you are rarely closer than 2m to another kayak angler. Kayak anglers are on the whole pretty clued up on only launching when conditions are benign and present little risk to putting yourself in danger. We rely on manually powering our craft and know all too well our limits of comfort and safety to ensure we are getting back home. Maybe we would have limitations on the distance we could travel from our homes to participate in angling? Maybe we would have time limitations on how long we could be out for?… and then came freedom.

Time for Fishing

Just like that, the Prime Minister announced that a handful of outdoor activities and sports could resume in England including angling and paddlesports, and at the same time we could travel an unlimited distance to participate in these activities providing we return to our home address at the end of each day. Kayak fishing was a go! As luck would have it I was also called back to work full-time the very next day after being on furlough throughout the most restrictive phase of lockdown… typical! Luckily the weekend forecast was superb and I was going to make the most of it.

I needed to catch fish… lots of fish. A session in West Cornwall was order of the day. No real plan, but a bit of lure fishing over reefs and a bit of bait fishing to maximise my chance of catching a variety of species. It would be a day on my own on the Saturday and the forecast was about as good as it could get. No wind, clear skies, sunshine and small tides. Anticipation was high and after many weeks of being stuck at home, just breathing in the salty sea air whilst setting up was incredibly satisfying. As the kayak took to the water and I jumped aboard, I never felt more at home. What a release! I headed a little way out with nothing but a blue horizon in front of me and it felt so, so good. An elixir like no other!

The Wait Was Over

I headed to a small reef in 60ft of water and dropped down a Fiiish Minnow 120. Vertically jigged, it wasn’t long before a fish had a few plucks that developed into the rod hooping over as I continued reeling. Fish on! The unmistakable crash dive ensued from a pollack; always great sport on a 10-50gr lure rod and a 4000 size reel loaded with braid. Golden flanks soon appeared from the clear water and a reasonable pollack of around 5lb arrived at the surface. That certainly itched a scratch!

Over the next couple of hours I picked away at around 20 pollack up to around 8lb and lost a better fish that threw the hook without warning. A handful of ballan wrasse also got involved, pouncing on the lure as soon as it hit bottom and making a mess of the soft plastics with their fine set of teeth. The tide was flooding and I moved to another set of deeper reefs.

A New Lure

I fancied a change of lure and recently brought some of the Storm 360 GT Coastal Biscay Shads. These come in a favoured 40g weight with a weed-less design in some pretty realistic fish colours. It would take some persuasion to get me out of my financially crippling addiction to Fiiish Minnows, but I am always open to trying more cost-effective lures. The funky ‘Rainbow Wrasse’ colour was tied on and sent to the bottom. A few Pollack obliged and then a different fish took the lure and gave a head thumping fight. A nice 5lb Cod was the culprit and a welcome sight. Several more Pollack later and I needed to change lure again – the tide was picking up and I needed more than 40g to stay connected with the lure and prevent it kiting off down-tide. A 60g Savage Gear Sandeel was enough and accounted for another handful of hard-fighting Pollack.

I had a couple of hours until high tide and fancied a change. I was about a mile uptide of my launch spot so decided on a spot of drift fishing for an easy ride back to my launch. Strips of mackerel nicked onto size 1/0 hooks on a running ledger were sent to the bottom as I laid back and enjoyed the peace and sunshine. Bliss. I drifted over half a mile before any signs of a bite. A few nibbles but nothing worth grabbing the rod for. A few hundred yards later and a better bite came. I grabbed the rod and what felt like an aggressive wrasse pulled down hard on the rod tip. A fish was hooked and was putting up a great fight. I was over fairly clean ground so wasn’t too sure what to expect. A splash of blue and red colour was visible in the turquoise water and I had convinced myself it was a good cuckoo wrasse.

A Rare Treat

You can imagine my face when I realised it was actually a Couch’s bream! These are one of my favourite species and are somewhat a rarity to catch, especially from a kayak. I swiftly lifted it onto my lap and admired the simply stunning colouration on these fish. They are a very similar in shape to a gilthead bream, but with pink and silver colouration with a striking electric blue sheen to the back and fins. It weighed 2lb 8oz and after a few photos was released successfully. A real result and the perfect reward for enduring weeks of no fishing.

I drifted for another half hour without anything else taking an interest in the bait. Time for another change of tactics, and the anchor was sent to the bottom to fish the hour over slack water. I was fairly close to a reef and the mackerel baits were soon the focus of attention from some small fish, probably little wrasse and pouting, but eventually something worth striking came along. A picture perfect male cuckoo wrasse of around 1lb had scoffed the mackerel strip. The electric blue colouration on these fish, especially at breeding time, is spectacular. This was followed up by another fish with deeper blue colours but equally as stunning. Slack water came and the kayak had just started to turn on the anchor. It moved me over a slightly rougher patch and I lost a couple of rigs to snags. I persisted and set back up and stuck on a bigger mackerel bait in the hope of a proper rod bender.

A Big Bull Huss

Minutes later something gave a few strange pulls on the bait. I left it. Five minutes must have passed before it showed another bite and I held the rod in anticipation. No further bites, but as many anglers will know, just because the fish isn’t pulling doesn’t mean that fish hasn’t got the bait in its mouth. I had that gut feeling a fish was sat on the bait. It’s roulette – red or black, you’re either going to hook up or you’ll strike into nothing (or a snag!). The odds were on my side and I struck into solid weight and a fish that was thrashing violently. Conger? I thought so for a few moments, and then it really pulled hard and started swimming away from the kayak enough to pull some line from the reel. Maybe it was a tope. I played it like a tope and it was going bezerk! It was quite a surprise to see a massive bull huss bolting around beneath the kayak a few minutes later. It wasn’t done. This fish was really angry and was on steroids – I’ve never had such a battle with a Huss. This thing was powering off and pulling drag from the reel without issue! It took a few minutes to actually get it under control enough to pull alongside the kayak. I tailed it into the kayak and round 2 of the fight began. How are they so strong!?! It was a new personal best for sure and I managed to wrestle it into a weighing bag and the scales ticked over 16lb. A proper bruiser of a male fish that didn’t want to be in the kayak and once back in the water shot back for the depths at a rate of knots!

The tide had now turned and with it the slight breeze that had picked up was enough to chop up the sea. Not uncomfortable but I had filled my boots and decided to head in early afternoon, take my time packing up and prepare for the next day, more than content with my captures.



Back For More Fun

The following day I was joined by good friend Matt Cobb, who was also suffering from severe cabin fever. Again, the weather was superb and as kayak anglers we really do enjoy seeing sunshine and flat seas when launching. We explored a new patch of reefs and it was pollack from the off. Matt was getting stuck into them on hokkai rigs and I was picking away fish on a Savage Gear Sandeel. The tide was trickling through on the start of the flood at a comfortable 0.6 knots which gave us plenty of fishing time over a few big reef systems. The pollack were in feeding mode and for a while it was a fish a drop. The tide picked up and once it got over 1.8 knots it became a bit relentless with more time heading back up-tide to start a drift than actual fishing. The fish were slowing up but we enjoyed some great sport throughout the flood tide with fish to 8lb and over 70 fish between us, many returned successfully with a few kept for the freezer.

We tried to locate some mackerel to try some bait fishing but to no avail. Luckily, I had brought a few frozen ones and I dropped anchored on a section of reef sheltered from the worse of the tide. Dogfish. Dogfish. Dogfish. Nope, that’s enough of that. I moved to a different area of cleaner ground and tried again. Half hour went by before anything serious gave a bite. A good pull down and I struck into a lump of weight. This time I could tell it was a bull huss straight away, strong lunging and head thrashing. It was another cracking fish of similar size to the one the day before. The scales put it at 15lb 12oz. Two big Huss in as many days. The tide became a bit too much to fish the bottom comfortably so we up anchored and called it a day. We had been on the water for eight hours in baking hot sunshine with plenty of fish action, so thought best to head ashore before we cooked and shrivelled into a mess of sunstroke and dehydration.

The weekend had been just the remedy for weeks of fishing inactivity. A stack of hard fighting fish and some lovely specimens too. Whilst everyday life for most of us will take quite some time to return to ‘normal’, at least we can take some consolation that we can get out fishing for that bit of escapism we all crave, especially in testing times.

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