Bill and I have fished for years - since we were about 16 - and have many a happy memory from the '96-'98 period when we went chasing Carp around lakes in Essex and Kent. We were bloody good too, and fishing every given moment (weekends, evenings, revision weeks, between exams etc) meant we gained a huge amount of knowledge in a very short time. But then came University, and 'life' got in the way. Our fishing expeditions became less regular, until eventually we realised we hadn't fished together in years.
Fast forward to 2008, and one day we were chatting and both made comment that we were interested in getting into sea fishing. A plan was hatched to bring back the good old days and add further chapters to the fishing chronicles. 2008 saw us spend a week in Wales, and in 2009 and 2010 we fished from Maldon.
The 2011 Boys Fishing Week took place last week (11-17 June), and since Bill bought Reel Grumpy last summer we decided to be based from Brightlingsea and make the most of the fact we had a boat at our disposal.
So on Friday I frantically tried to pack for Alfie and I in a bid to beat the M25 Friday rush hour traffic.We cruised down to Bills, were joined by Tash before 6pm, and then enjoyed the traditional 'Friday night Chinese round Bills'. The remainder of the evening was spent putting rigs together, loading line onto reels, and formulating a plan of action ... and of course cursing the typically unpredictable British weather. We were in bed before midnight though, there was an early alarm call around the corner and with a good forecast there were fish to catch!
We were up early and on our way before any other traffic had turned a key in the ignition. We rolled into Brightlingsea by 6am, and soon had the tender in the water.
Only the ring-ding-ding of the two stroke outboard motor broke the complete silence of a wonderful summer morning ... and withing a matter of minutes we were left to enjoy said summers morning, as once again we ran out of fuel and called upon Oar Power to get out to the mooring.
With the tender tied up, the cover off Reel Grumpy, and the anchor raised we were soon on our way. This was to be an all action fishing day - checking bait every 10-15 minutes, and raising anchor as frequently as was needed. This was something of a new approach for us, as during our Friday night pre-fishing discussions we came to the conclusion that maybe we were taking too much of a 'carp approach' with our sea fishing. By that I mean we were leaving baits in the water too long whilst often anchored up in spots where there was no action to be seen. As we chugged out to our first stop we got the mackerel feathers out in an attempt to catch some bait for Tuesdays Tope session.
All in all we had a fantastic day. We did as we wanted to, we really proactive, and as a result caught a fair few fish. The only problem was that everything we caught seemed to be of the Eel, Whiting or Dogfish variety, and were barely larger than the bait we used to catch them!
The highlight of the days catches was this gorgeous looking starfish!
Feeling happy with our approach, and a little unlucky with our results, we headed back to the mooring by mid afternoon. Our next session on the boat would be in three days time, our much anticipated Tope session, and we felt confident we had the right approach.
Sunday rolled around, and in a typical British Summer type of way we had a pretty miserable forecast. We opted to make a trip out to Southend to fish from the pier for a few hours, and then spend the afternoon/evening watching the Grand Prix. The wind had really blown up overnight, and Southend was a totally miserable place where no-one seemed to be catching a thing.
Alfie seemed to enjoy wandering around though, although in the cold wind and drizzle I have no idea what he found so amusing. He clearly wants to be joining in with future boys fishing weeks though!
We only fished for a few hours, and were back at Bill's with a mug of coffee before the intro music to the Grand Prix began. And then, whilst it lashed it down in Canada and Jenson Button won an amazing race, the heavens opened in Maldon and cast a great shadow over the fishing that might be possible during the week.
I had plans for Monday afternoon, and needed to drag everyone to Ilford for the afternoon. With the wind still blowing, we decided to try and get a few hours fishing squeezed in at Tollesbury, a local place to Bill that we often fish when casting from the shore. It has a handy sea wall which gives us something to duck behind, and out of the gusting winds it actually seemed remarkably pleasant.
Sadly though, another few hours were spend drowning worms and another blank session was chalked up. After such a promising start on Saturday, our fortunes had gone downhill in a dramatic fashion.
Still, it was now Tuesday, all 'other duties' were out the way, and for the next four days all that was left for us to do was to fish. We made our way out to Brighlingsea once more, the forecast being fantastic and this looking like the best opportunity for us to get out into deep water. The deep water where the Tope live.
Tuesday also happened to be Bills birthday, and with a two and a half hour chug ahead of us we unwrapped the cake that his parents had left for him at the house. Coffee and cake whilst out on the ocean, the perfect breakfast!
As we made our way out the windfarm become increasingly close. This place is massive, and you reach a point where you feel like no matter how far you have travelled you are still the same distance away from it.
We found a spot we liked and dropped anchor. I had one rod on squid, whilst concentrating with the mackerel feathers with my old carp rod. Bill was also fishing squid on one rod, but on his other was a whole mackerel flapper. The rig used a wire trace and a hook the size of your fist, it was aimed at catching a Tope which would give him a fight to last all day!
It wasn't long before his squid rod was doubled over, and Bill struck into his first fish of the day.
As the fish was brought in closer to the boat we were both thinking/hoping that this might be the first shark to grace the deck of Reel Grumpy!
And sure enough it was!
There's no mistaking the Tope's sharky family membership, and when we zoomed in on this photo you can even see its razor sharp teeth!
That kicked off an absolutely amazing days fishing. We soon both added Dogfish to our species catch list.
I caught my first ever Starry Smoothhound, which gave an awesome fight for a 2lb'er!
And Bill got in on the Smoothhound action, his first one and pushing the scales round to nearly 3lb.
Other smaller fish were caught along the way, and in hindsight I wished we photographed everything during the week so we had them all 'on record'. It doesn't matter though, the highlight of the day was still to come. The Tope seemed to have little interest in Bill's mackerel baited rod, and once again his squid rod screamed off. The biggest and best catch of the day came in at just under 4lb. Whilst a good size fish, its fairly small for one of these - I can't imagine what fighting and landing a 20lb+ Tope will be like!
All this action took our focus away from what was going on around us. As the waves had picked up we'd simply gone with the rocking of the boat and hadn't really noticed. Until Bill turned around, saw white peaks atop these larger waves and wisely said it would be a good idea to head for home.
So we had to raise the anchor. The process works as follows. 1) I climb up on the front of the boat 2) I point Bill to which way the rope goes to the anchor 3) Bill manoeuvres the boat over the anchor 4) I lift up the anchor. This is quite an easy and well rehearsed gig, however doing it in rocky seas was something new to us. Every time Bill got the boat over the anchor the waves were knocking us off, and every time I went to haul the anchor we'd drop over the top of another wave I'd be forced to let go to save myself falling overboard. After what seemed like 10 or 15 minutes I realised there was no way I was going to be able to stand and drag the anchor up, the power of the sea was simply too great. I sat down, already exhausted, and took a moment to work out what to do. At the very front of the boat is a channel to run the anchor chain over, and i decided to line the rope over this channel. I sat down, braced myself against the rail at the front, and as the boat dropped I hauled and as the boat rose I hung on for dear life. After taking and losing line from and to the sea it became apparent I was never going to haul up over 60 feet of rope - the saying 'one step forward and two steps back' comes to mind. Sliding back a bit further I exposed the tie down points on the top of the boat, moved the mooring rope out of the way, and started again. Every 10/15 feet tying the rope off before hauling once more for all I was worth. With us not able to get the boat over the anchor it made my job even harder, but eventually the rope became chain and shortly after the anchor was raised. I have to say this absoluely killed me, and really drilled home just how powerful the sea can be. For 3 or 4 minutes I was unable to move from the front of the boat, totally drained from the efforts involved.
With the anchor hauled, and a strong current behind us we motored home hitting 8 knots - nearly double what Reel Grumpy usually cruises at! It was all worthwhile though, we had an amazing days fishing which was capped off by a gorgeous evening.
We were in Brightlingsea for the night, and got out at a good hour again on Wednesday. This time staying closer to the mooring in search of Bass. Bill had a new travel spinning rod and little shimano reel that he wanted to try out, and it wasn't too long before it was doubled over!
Bill had an awesome fight with light tackle, and soon muscled an excellent 'dinner fish' on board.
As we enjoyed a few beers on the boat, the fish seemed to be very cautious with their feeding. Often giving numerous taps before actually taking the bait - most unlike a Bass!
Patience paid off, and a take that hauled that top of the rod down indicated Bill could be into another good Bass! Sure enough, this beauty was soon being bashed on the head with BBQ thoughts going through our minds.
We were only out for the morning and both caught a few Eels before we set for home. I had no luck with the Bass, but it was definitely a good mornings work for Bill!
We dropped the Bass in the fridge back at the house, enjoyed sausage and chips on the hard, grabbed some more bait, and set off for our afternoon session.
We tried a few spots and had a great afternoon with a few more Bass amongst our catches. Sadly all were too small for the dinner table, this one saved by being just 10mm too small!
With the afternoon session over we planned to enjoy BBQ'd Bass before heading out again for a nighttime fish for Sole. Its fair to say we enjoyed our dinner, and devoured our catch like something out of a Hanna Barbera cartoon.
I took the dogs out for their walk at about 10pm, and it was clear the chances of us fishing the night were disappearing fast. The wind was blowing up, and the water getting rougher. We went down to the hard to inspect the water and deal with the tender - sadly we agreed that it would be best to postpone our Sole session until another time. To be fair we were both shattered after four days of early mornings and long days anyway.
Thursday arrived, and with it a miserable forecast. We were leaving Brightlingsea to head back to Maldon, and so went for a quick fish in the morning to use up the remainder of our bait. As we pulled in a few Eels we could see grey clouds approaching, shortly followed by an amazing lightning display that we watched work its way around the coastline in front of us.
We didn't escape it all though, and eventually a massive rainshower was directly overhead!
With our bait exhausted we moored up and put Reel Grumpy to bed, before packing up our things and heading pack to Maldon.
We got back to Maldon where Bill was greeted by the most amazing birthday cake!
After a good nights sleep we once again woke to overcast skies and a forecast of rain. This was Friday, and I had to head home at the end of the day so we wanted just a few hours fun fishing. We visited the local tackle shop, and spoke to the owner about a few local places. Bill enquired about somewhere local to him, which it turns out you aren't allowed to fish. The chap knew what was in it years ago, and seeing as there are no 'no fishing' signs he encouraged us to head over there, get hidden away, and see what we could catch. Armed with a box of worms we made our way to the location and scouted the area. Eventually we found a hugely overgrown section, which once we'd fought our way through the bushes and brambles there was no doubt that we were well hidden!
After two hours of rain soaked fishing we hadn't had a nibble! If these fish haven't seen a rod and line in years we should be hauling them out, 'what the hell are we doing wrong?' we asked ourselves. And then modern technology came to our rescue, Bill jumped on Google and brought up the map of where we were.
We had joined at the top left of the lake and wandered down the left hand side. Clearly we didn't realise that the large lake had ended, and we were now fishing a pissy little pool at the bottom! Soaked through we opted to knock this on the head, head to the pub, and then wander back along the canal dangling a rod as we wandered.
We enjoyed a pint and dried off, before heading out into the elements once more.
All I can say about the afternoon is that it was so wet I didn't dare take the camera out of the bag! Once we decided where to fish I got my bait out and hid back under a tree lining the canal as Bill changed his set up. A freak downpour then opened above us, and he was soaked through within seconds. There was no hiding though, and we both got drenched - I was grateful to have left my hood attached to my Barbour though, something I reckon Bill wish he had done too!
So Friday turned into another blank, but that's OK. We had such a fantastic week not even the comprehensive soaking - nor my four hour drive home - could put a dampener on things!