When Plan B Pays Off
It was a dumb thing to say.
Just before the second lockdown was announced, Roy Moore and I had gone to fish Loe Bar after a spell of bad weather. Down on the shingle we’d bumped into St. Ives angler Kevin Griffiths and it was while chatting with Kev that I came out with the words that annoyed me every time I remembered them over the days that followed. ‘Yeah, I just don’t have any appetite for clean ground fishing in the winter anymore,’ I’d said. This coming from the guy who hardly tied a single rotten bottom last winter, spending the entire season fishing for spurdogs and mullet. What a prat.
After thinking about what had made me say what I said, I realised how I’d gotten the false impression that cold weather clean grounding was no longer my bag. The fact is, at some point over the last few years, I’ve stopped looking for good opportunities to fish for codling and the like in my familiar haunts. In all honesty, I think I’ve gotten gun shy of loading up with expensive worm and crab to go and take punts on there being a better fish out there among the ‘pest’ species. Why bother when I can just fish for bigger fish with cheaper baits?
What I had forgotten is that, as well as the more desirable fish, I often actually enjoy catching these so-called pest species. One of the great things about early winter fishing is (depending on the venue) it gives me the chance to build a mixed bag and, crucially, keeps me guessing what kind of fish the next bite is going to come from. That’s fun. That’s the kind of fishing that takes me right back to being an 8 year old sitting on a muddy bank with a roach pole and a tub of maggots. When that float bobbed under, it could have been anything from a tiger-striped perch to a copper-plated crucian carp. The anticipation blew my mind. Thirty years later, it still does.
Of course, the kinds of sessions you go on hoping for a nice variety can turn into a one or two species snoozefest and that’s what happened to us on the Bar that night. Apart from the odd pout, we were bombarded with dogs and small whiting and I don’t think anybody’s imagination got fired up over that. But then, like Mick Jagger sang, you can’t always get what you want and as someone who can’t get no satisfaction, he should know these things.
After our unfulfilling trip to the Bar, I still had a strong hankering for a mixed species fun session. The Bar is a natural choice of venue for this kind of trip, being that it can produce a wide range of species when it is fishing well. I waited a week or two for another good window to open up, eventually taking a chance and heading down just after a prolonged spell of heavy weather. The swell had dropped but the wind was still onshore and it was always going to be a gamble on whether the place was fishable or not, depending on the weed situation.
I got there in daylight and decided to go and check it out before getting the gear out of the car. Trudging down to the beach, I could see a line of weed along the high tide mark but it wasn’t until I got closer that I could see strands of kelp being tossed around in the shoredump. My heart sank a little, this is exactly what you don’t want to see at this beach and I wasn’t going to waste my time trying to fish through it. I decided to head for a backup venue: a rock mark that I’d not fished for some time but I’d heard had been producing a few fish of late.
In the past, making tactical retreats to backup marks has not been one of my strengths. When I had the time to fish when I wanted, if I turned up to my first choice venue and found it unfishable, I’d often just go home deflated. These days, with more responsibilities and fishing time restricted, I’m better at fending off this urge. Having said that, when I arrived at my second choice spot and looked out over the water, I was not inspired. The sea was carrying a nice colour but it was painfully flat. Only the promise of a good run of tide from the big spring I was fishing gave me hope that there’d be enough movement to get some food moving and interest a few predators. I even called my mate Mark Reed for a bit of a pep talk. He reminded me that it had been rough lately and that if he was there, he’d have been straight down those rocks and slinging in some baits. That was the prompt I needed.
Once I got down to the mark, I started feeling it a bit more. It always adds that little bit of extra interest fishing a place that I’ve not been to for a while and, after doing a lot of beach fishing lately, it was nice to set up knowing that I wouldn’t have to move for the next few hours. I’d brought along a half pound of lug, along with some sandeels and squid and it was various combinations of these that I sent out into the quiet brown water.
Things started reasonably promisingly. My first casts found a dog and a bonus herring which took a small fish bait on a pop up. A few dogs later, I had a cracking slack liner and caught up to a lively little fish that proved to be a coalfish of 1lb 9oz. Cornish coalfish are often very pale compared to the darker specimens you might be used to catching in Norway or in the northern parts of the UK, but they colour up again once dispatched.
The session continued along the same lines, with a steady stream of dogs punctuated by more interesting species. The fishing was easy, a lob of 50-60 yards was enough to put me on the spot and I kept my rigs simple, sticking to pulleys, along with the occasional cast with a two-up clipped rig. My worm baits began to consistently find small codling, although I did manage a couple of 2lb plus fish that joined the coalie for the table. A decent whiting also dropped into the party, along with several dark pout. With the tide halfway down to low and my time to leave approaching, I decided to give it a couple more casts in hope of a bass.
The tide was still draining hard as I packed away my first rod, leisurely cleaning up the area around where I’d been fishing. After getting my kit squared away, I turned my attention to the rod still fishing, baited with the last of my lugworm. The line hung slack and I quickly picked it up and reeled up tight, feeling a bit of weight and then not much at all as the fish swam quickly towards me. This bore all the hallmarks of my hoped-for bass and I was delighted to see a sizeable silver bar appear at the surface of the water below. Unfortunately, the bass took a bad smack against the rocks during the landing process so I decided it would join the other fish I’d kept. At 3lbs, it was comfortably clear of minimum size and it was a nice fit fish that produced two meaty fillets.
That bass capped off my session perfectly and I finished packing away and set about cleaning my haul. Nigel, one of the other lads at the care home where I work, had suggested bringing in some fresh fish to cook one night for dinner and, looking at what I had, I realised that my catch would comfortably feed the three staff on shift and the person we support. Nige and I would be on the same shift in a day’s time so it seemed the planets had aligned just right. The man is fire in the kitchen too, so I was already looking forward to seeing what he could produce with my offerings. For the record, Nige made a curry with the white fish and fried the bass fillets in garam masala, accompanying them with a cool raita. Insanely good!
Back at the car I slumped into my seat, poured myself the last of my coffee and thought about how the evening had gone. The angler I used to be may well have gone home in a sulk after finding the Bar unfishable and the Ben of last year would not have even bothered coming out on this kind of session. But, in the end, it had been a fish a chuck with plenty of variety and seven species in total. It had been long enough since the last time I’d had this kind of session that it was easy to look past the dogs and properly enjoy the other species that I’d encountered. True, I hadn’t caught anything of any great size but, as any woman who owns a pocket rocket might tell you, things don’t always have to be big to be fun.