Chris Kennedy-Barnard excels once again with his photography skills and news update.
It was possibly the biggest tide in two decades, upon my first look at the sea yesterday evening, I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was like the sight of the world’s great flood, so much was missing including our first option as a route to the mark I wanted to fish.
We shook our heads and had to turn back for safety reasons. The second route was a steep ascent, that seemed to go on forever, in fact neither of us could believe how long we had been walking up in slippery mud, in a narrow passage skirted with barbed wire one side and gorse and hawthorns the other. We weren’t exactly living the dream, with lactose acid in just about every working muscle in both legs, and a nice stitch on the edge of my rib cage to keep me company. The next phase was a nice downhill of uneven steps, with legs like Bambi, all over the place. We had one last climb followed by a crumbly descent and we were at the mark I am naming the “Conger Complex”.
We were 40ft plus up, and the wind was doing all sorts, one moment in your face and another at your back. I could see initially Gary wasn’t wild about the look of the place. The drop took some getting used to and he had some reservations, mainly worried about his rods getting pulled over. I showed him the boulder on the tripod and rod butts trick and he was reassured.
I’d been practicing my casting that morning at Southbourne, with Colin Olver, our excellent local casting coach. I found a nice raised platform (proud of the rest of the rocky ledge) and sent a couple of whole cuttlefish long out into the abyss, only illuminated by the waxing new moon. The tide began to pull hard and we also began to get knocks from the off.
Gary was fishing what I can only describe a perfect viewpoint, similar to the rock walled cliff edge view Steve Martin and Michael Caine have at breakfast in the 1989 film “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, it was stunning and almost looked purpose built. My spot in contrast looked more like the surface of Mars.
Gary called me saying he had a fish on, but half way in it got off, it couldn’t have been hooked properly, but it was decent encouragement for as both as this wasn’t a small fish at all. I said to give it a bit more stick next time to try and set the hooks a bit deeper. It’s a really hard thing to get your head around as a clean ground angler when you switch to the rocks and start going after eels there, but you have to be aggressive initially to get the eels away from the sanctuary lairs and set hooks through their deep tough skin.
Gary called out “decent bite” and hit it, and he was into another fish, but bigger. Gary wasn’t having an easy time and it took him a good few minutes to have it through the swells and at the water’s edge. I peered over with my torch and a gaff on a rope, which was about 2 meters shorter than it needed to be. We tried hand lining what was probably a 15-20lb eel. Another PB for Gary was swinging in the balance, I held the rod while Gary grabbed some decent gloves and then began hoisting it up toward us. Half way up the line went ping and the fish dropped down into the sea and swam off. I said pragmatically, “come on, let’s get baited back up and cast out, plenty more out there”. The words were hollow only to me, as I have had plenty of Purbeck sessions where one decent fish shows and that’s the end of it, however, I couldn’t have been more wrong on this night.
The depth we were cast into was ridiculous, I would guess at 60ft plus, leads taking for ever to bump the bottom, but this wasn’t always the case, the seabed seemed to have a deep gully cut into the bedrock and we were quite often finding decent clean sand too. Gary was again in, cast 80 yards out and already I could see his rod going like he had a shark on. At a guess this was a huge eel. thrashing even at distance, Gary was having a hell of a struggle, locked up and taking like if and when he could, sweating like he was in a sauna(despite the freezing temperatures). The rod being pulled back and forth, him edging back away from the precipice, as he felt he may get pulled in. As a spectator, I would guess this fish to be somewhere between 30-50lb, he was having a hell of a job while I scoured the surface 30 yards out with my headlamp on full beam, waiting for this monster to surface.
It never did, the hooks pulled free after he’d painstakingly worked it in for nearly 60 yards. Words could not console Gary. He yelled out into the darkness, a series of expletives. A gentle mannered guy, I’ve never seen him swear or raise his voice. or even get stressed about anything. But his 3rd possible PB of the night was never to be seen. He hadn’t lost that fish, we both had, I am confident it would have been the biggest fish I’ve seen off the rocks. Gary was slumped over the rocks. He was broken, he disclosed he was at the point where he was going to hand me the rod to take a shift at retrieving, as he was almost completely spent.
These things happen in fishing, you just have to move on and be cast out for the next opportunity. This opportunity had come my way, I hit a small bite and the first thing I said was “woah”, a very decent fish was on, tug of war commenced, for a few minutes it was my turn to have an achy back and burning arms. 30 yards out a beautiful eel was on the surface, Gary was running around for gloves and gaffs and was in position. This is where things got tricky and the fish seemed to double in weight. I was on 50lb braid and feeling every pull hard. The eel at a guestimate was 25-30lb and I was really, really struggling from this height, my Century TTR was bending double and I had to wedge myself in the rocks to stop myself getting pulled over by the fish and the swells. No matter what I tried I couldn’t work it to the spot where we could climb down, so hand lining again was attempted, the fish was washed under the ledge and the shock leader grazed on the rock, I knew I was on borrowed time and feared the worst. My heart sank. Gary couldn’t even lift the fish, it was so heavy, the line twanged and that was it.
I wasn’t disappointed really, it was likely a PB, but how could I share my despair when Gary had already lost 3. I said again, lets bait up and have another go. 5 minutes had lapsed and Gary was in again. I just wished and hoped we’d land this to make it a special night, it was 20lb plus on the surface. I grabbed the line with my merino gloves, trying to control it and beach it below on a ledge, while Gary sought his heavy duty gloves. The line cut through my gloves and into my hand, I shouted at Gary “is this braid? It’s just cut right through my glove and the hard skin on my hand”. Hand lining again was attempted, I trod on a crumbly rock and nudged Gary in the back but grabbed him quickly in the same motion, I think his life flashed before his eyes. Sadly again it was very hard to lift the fish at all and the line went, probably due to earlier nicks on the rock. Gary again yelled into the darkness and sat on the rock, beside himself with devastation of this fish, 4 he was shouting, 4 times! He was one flew over the cuckoo’s nest. We shared a coffee as what had happened sunk in.
I guess it was just one of those nights, more imagination and experience was needed in the landing of the fish, it was possible, but a wheel on a pole would have increased our chances no end with hand lining, as would a large circumference drop net. I looked to the positives, we’d fished a spot we never had before, we’d seen some magnificent specimens and had the best blank we ever had, one that will stick in the memory as long as we live, leaving an imprint on us. The kind of imprint that will make us rush back as soon as the weather calms a little and we’ll have those fish. People say this kind of thing is character building, it certainly is, makes you resilient and as I have said before, the best kind of fish you can catch, is the one you have had to earn the most. I can’t remember a night where I didn’t bring in a single rig to check bait, everyone was hit by a fish and struck. Magic.
I have a feeling this year will be a special one. Night guys.