Friday, 4 May 2012

Me the sea and April showers.

'Where there's water there's fish' I don't know if someone else said that first, but I said it the other day as I strolled towards a pedalo lined inch deep boating lake in a coastal park.
I should have taken advantage of Jacky's lack of faith in my statement and gambled payment of our impending Sunday lunch on it, because just as both our heads shadowed the water, hordes of what could only be sticklebacks darted out from the edge instinctively fleeing our possibly predatory shadows.
Like most, her automatic assumption was that there is no fish in any body of water, and it was much the same this morning as I stood sentry over the sea; masses of weekend dog walkers looked questioningly at me with slit eyes as they passed me by walking their gaggle of mongrels.
The fact is that yes, there are fish in the sea, and even though people generally don't see you catching them. there is a reason why most stalwart sea anglers cast into the surf. Admittedly they might not crawl up our lines but they are there trust me! Even so, just as that thought occurred to me on the beach, I too had my own doubts regarding the presence of fish where I was fishing; the tide was growing ever closer to my feet and as yet I had caught zero fish.

My cunning plan had been to arrive at the beach three hours before high tide, cast one of my irresistible juicy peeler crabs forty yards off the shingle into the low tide trench, where anchored to a spiky lead, it would hold fast until a wonderful silvery early season bass would perchance happen upon it. This resulted in my rod tip ether nodding like one of those nodding dogs in the back of a mk4 ford cortina or dropping back until the line drooped like washing line full of wet woollies, whereupon I would strike hard before playing the oceanic jewel into my hands.  I would admire it dutifully before slipping it back with the correct amount of reverence before nipping back for a beer back bacon sandwich and mug of steaming tea.

As always it never went to plan and both rods although regularly re-baited seemed to be cast upon barren water. As the time passed slowly and uneventfully my attentions had been drawn to what can nowadays be described as a rare phenomenon.

I had always thought that the ancient collection of beach launched one and two man inshore fishing boats with there flaking paint were relics of the past. But for the first time ever  I saw several of them hauled down to the sea by men wearing florescent waterproofs, who were now working them all along the coast in front of me.

Some processed what looked like gill nets, untangling their catches as they drifted along the tide. Others pulled crab or lobster pots from amongst the rough ground adjacent to where I was fishing. Though they all seemed to be doing something different their bond was evident and the camaraderie of those men of the sea was also extended by them towards me. Other residents of the beach were ignored. But I, albeit stranded on the land, was too trying to scratch a catch from the frugal sea, so as every single boat passed me by it's crew would hold up a hand or two in acknowledgement, and I would return the gesture with my own salute back to my cousins of angle.

It was as I watched a small blue boat drift from right to left that I caught sight of another group of sea borne hunters working the shore. Sea gulls of any sort always make great features to fish to. We have all seen those wildlife programs where gannets dive into the sea like torpedoes as unseen predatory pelagic giants force bait fish to the surface. Today though it was a much less exotic band that had caught my eye.
Ten to fifteen black headed gulls sailed effortlessly along the surf line searching slowly amongst the waves. Probably fifty meters away one broke rank which in turn caused all the other to loop back. A blink of an eye and I would have missed it. But at least half of them fluttered down to pick food from the water.
That itself peeked my attention and moments later they again dipped much closer. Both rods were reeled in re-baited and recast onto the same line as the feeding gulls.

Gnashing gnawing pin like teeth of whiting stripped the bait like piranhas. Though annoying it can quite often be a precursor to something bigger. For where there is prey there is predators. And I was right! As re-baited one rod the still fishing rod thumped once before dropping slack.

It is not easy reeling in anything over a pound with a trailing lead covered in spikes dragging in the shingle. The sucking and pushing action of the sea only compounds your problems. But once you feel that solid resistance you know for sure it ain't no pin whiting on the end of your line. When my first capture finally appeared flipping on the sand I was happily shocked.

The two most prised fish by UK sea anglers are as different as the seasons which they are respectively synonymous with. The summer belongs to the spiky silver bass and the winter can only be the reserve of the cod. With British summer time just about on our doorstep it was a schoolie bass which I expected to see on the end of my line. But instead it was a codling which I dusted the sand off as I walked back up the beach.

The feeding spell only lasted maybe three quarters of an hour at the top of tide just before the slack water, but in that time many more baits succumbed to the ravenous whiting. A few over zealous ones even got hung up on my massive 2/0 hooks before two more identical codling thumped my rod tip over.

Comfort really is a matter of perspective. From whichever angle you look at it sitting next to a blazing log fire on a frosty winters day is comfortable. Comparatively standing on the edge of  the north sea as a brisk easterly pounds you with rain is always going to feel a little uncomfortable. Lucky for me I was wrapped up like a trawler man in a force ten. Wearing my winter garb in April had allowed me to feel snug as a bug in rug as the wind whipped up the surf.

Easterlys are a funny thing when you're standing this far east. South easterlys feel generally quite warm and can actually in my experience give sometimes gives some great days on the coast. North easterlys are an awful fast track to bad weather from the colder parts of Europe and never turn out to be a good thing. But today it was a weird mix of the two, which resulted in some pragmatic fishing.

My gamble to bring only one rod and fish a single large bait off the back off the emanating waves was proving not to be a good one!

As bites failed to materialise right until the very bottom of the ebb tide when I again cut into a shoal of codling. Adding three identical fish too my tally in a second tiny window of activity.

Beyond these small rewards I had to content myself by mocking the awful weather from inside my protective layers by peeping out of my hood with a wry smile.

The tide wipes away everything including any signs of yesterdays foul weather. The wind and rain had faded away as I perused the secondhand book shops and art galleries of the ancient market town of Beccles. I managed to pick up a couple of interesting old reads before I nearly fainted when I found an old copy of the perch fishers book priced inside the cover in pencil at £65. I remember at the time blowing a raspberry in disgust thinking I could pick it up on Amazon for a lot less. But I just checked and the cheapest copy was £127 so I kind of regret not buying it now.

The beach was different today. Between bands of harmless clouds the sun illuminated the sand invitingly. Though the invitation was pointless as I was already there and would of been even if it was not so inviting. 
My bucket was replenished with an lucky dip of crabs. By that I mean I had discovered that although all the crabs in my possession where on their way to being peelers some hadn't quite developed the shy and retiring attitude of something that was once hard and is about to go soft, and instead still had the attitude of the common garden chav waving their claws every time my hand went in the bucket. On top of that I had obtained some rag worm of equally bad dispositions which I intended bait up some old school paul kerry wire boom rigs with to try and tempt some flatties.

A fresh slate and fresh bait to burn I went amount my merry business in the now placid sea. As much as I wanted a bass this trip I can't resist fishing for the ever obliging dabs and whiting which attacked my baits soon after the lead gripped bottom. 

It was a busy evening all the way down the tide into the slack water. The hungry hoard was punctuated by codling ether thumping away at the rod or dislodging the lead. There was certainly a lot of fish close in which as always attracts predators and what turned up could not have been bigger!

It surprising how hard it is to take the picture of a two hundred pound seal. It must have taken over an hour and hundreds of attempts to catch this one But after following its course up and down the beach it finally popped up right in front of me and openly stared at me for five minutes from only twenty feet off the sand.

The sea sometimes scares me. It is powerful, really powerful! So much so that it destroys land. Those perfect pictures of calm seas that were popular in the eighties and those ambient sounds of seas sold in lifestyle stores are all lies intended to attract us to the calm foreshore, were when we're not looking, the sea will rise up and pull you in. It must take a photographer weeks just to capture  that perfect peaceful moment it time that will entrance people into buying his lie, when in reality most of the time it is imperfect.

I had waited all day for a window in the weather just to try and steal a few hours. The supposed 25+mph Easterly felt more like 60mph and it was under no uncertain terms smashing the beach up.
At the cliffs yes the white caps were evident but from so high up they looked like something from a model village. Standing in front of them as the wind provoked them they seemed a little bigger. Four feet bigger maybe!

My first proper thought that I shouldn't be here came when that seventh bad ass wave shook the ground under my feet. Still though I tried in vain to heave the 8oz plus bait full force into the sky. Making water a third less far out than normal.

The second hint came five minutes later when the correct combination of sucking tide and blowing wind floored my entire set up by pounding the bow taught lines. But I held fast and cast again before hunkering down behind a groin. From forty feet away I could feel the waves smashing the shore, smoothing rough stones as it did so and at one point the wind was so strong it literally held the water up the beach.
A moment of sun created a perfect rainbow out over the sea which seemed amazing to my wind battered eyes against the black sky.

It was not long after this that I reeled in to refresh my bait to keep the trap fresh for those surf loving bass. It was an effort just to reel in and as I did the tide literally was sucking my rig back until it went solid as a rock.
Snapped up it seemed pointless and I turned tail blown off the beach with my tail between my legs.

I am not a true believer in common sense. This is mainly because if I was, half my fishing would be down the Swanny due to it being too wet or too cold. But the previous days conditions had seen me sent packing from the beach and the idea of wasting another load of bait on fruitless endeavours was a no brainer. Instead investigation was on the cards of a strange sight not far away from where we slept.

No one in the world protests quite like us English. It is ether a case of standing firm on a picket line wearing donkey jackets whilst police charge us down on the command of a hated woman of blue, or quiet objections that the rest of the world would find far too subtle to believe it was actually a protest. 

This one however is nether... and I do know what is about before anyone asks.

"A man bought a piece of land from a farmer who had in the past operated the said bit of land as camping/ holiday park of sorts. But after selling the land to the new owner at a very reasonable price he jacked up the price that he wanted to allow the new owner to use his access road.
All was not lost though as the property had a second access point through it's neighbouring  business which was a holiday park. Only problem was that they refused access to as they thought it may damage their business should cars be passing along their access rod all day long. Hence the local council refused any permission to build so much a barbecue on the land."

Brassed off the owner decided to get his own back on both his neighbours by doing this...

As a protest goes this is one of the best I have seen. A field sparsely dotted with coloured old caravans. Pure genius! In fact I now find myself wondering is it a protest or actually large scale installation art.

The field of caravans (or art) is located at the start of a raised path along one of the largest marshes on the south broads, and I have to admit to having never gone any further than the fish-able area of it. But as today was unfish-able it seemed a great opportunity to push on and see what was down this yet unexplored track.

We had not walked fifty feet before we spotted this muntjac deer and her somewhat shyer mate  having an afternoon snack in the field beyond the coloured vans.

A new acquisition to the shallow marshes was this massive old hulk run aground in the silt, where sooner or later it will rot away or be claimed by the reeds.

With more bad weather on the horizon the black clouds above gave an eerie mood amongst the whispering reeds as we tracked the shallow dyke that drained the land.

Two days with little action left me with an air of urgency to again cast upon the waves before I journeyed inland back to the centre of the country away from the sea for the summer. 
In an act of desperation I did the one thing I promised myself I would not do and headed to the harbour wall seeking shelter from the wind in order to get in maybe just a few last casts.

Although the skies were now clear and blue the wind still caused the surf to still nibble at the soft shores of the east, my only option was to swing baits tight to the huge concrete structure on which I stood to attempt to scratch a bite.

It was quite apt that the very first fish I caught from the sea should save the day for me. The stocky pouting can, like the whiting, strip hooks clean in seconds and quite often find themselves put in the pest category by most sea anglers. But for me after two days of being hounded by the sea and being unable to fish they were like manna from heaven. Every perfect pouting that reached my hand was thanked with the ultimate gratitude before being strategicly sent back too the water between strafes of cawing sea gulls. 

One last cast into the surf I thought was beyond my reach as I left that harbour wall in the morning. But whatever gods were controlling the weather decided one last cast was in need to lure me back and as if by someones bidding the wind just dropped away mid afternoon. Having bait to use up is no good way to reason another session, but pity was taken as was the opportunity offered.

This was to be a bitter sweet goodbye session for me. I still lay no claim to be a master of the sea - if anything I feel to be in my apprenticeship as a sea angler - but every time I visit I learn something new, and this time I learnt that the sea is quite often like a moody teenager prone to mood swings. One day calm as a summers day then moments later stirred up in a fit of rage. It is easily influenced by its friends such as the weather and the tides. But most of all, it is sometimes ultimately rewarding and gives up its treasures with gratitude, whilst the next day it seems barren and its rewards you nothing more than wet feet.

I did catch but felt no need to pull out the camera as it seemed like a private moment between myself and the sea at the end of an up and down week; once again even though I know I will be back soon, I felt reluctant to leave.

1 comment: