I suppose, personally, everybody views these disasters and their significance differently. Personally, well, I suppose I tend to go with the line of thought that says, when your time is up then there’s little you can do about it. Okay, I, like everybody else won’t take unnecessary risks but, if I think they’re justified then I’ll be going. For example, it wouldn’t occur to me to break off my engagements in India this coming January. I know that the Indian economy where we’re going depends on our appearance there. I also like to think that our Indian hosts really look forward to seeing us, each and every year and I guess they’d be disappointed if we didn’t put aside our qualms and arrive as usual. I know that it’s easily said but, like the majority of our English cricketers, as far as I know now (writing mid November) I’ll be on that plane.
Mind you, if you really don’t fancy travel – especially on long haul – then there are plenty of adventures available around the British Isles. And I mean adventures – really gripping ideas that are way out of the norm. Let’s have a look at the sort of things I’ve got in mind.
Now, let me admit right from the off that I’ve never done any tunny fishing myself…I’ve never even seen one, but I do feel as though I have a real solid link with them. You see, back in the 1930s my grandfather, who died a full fifteen years before I was born, owned a tunny boat that sailed out of Whitby each summer. In those days the North Sea was full of tunny – the giant tuna – that were in gorging on shoals of herring and mackerel. My grandmother herself caught a big fish and it was she who really fired me up with tales in the early sixties. It sounded absolutely thrilling, totally adrenaline pumping and so, even if I’ve never held a tunny rod in my own hands, at least those in my family have.
For years, it seemed the very thought of tuna off our own coasts were consigned to history, the fish wiped out by commercial netting as, indeed, were their prey. But no longer. There is a chance.
When…where…how…? A lot of the return of the tuna has to do with the North Atlantic Drift as it warms the coastal waters as it brushes the west coast of Ireland, especially around Donegal. The big fish follow their prey and come in close to the coast. It’s still a long shot but increased exposure is building up experience and the chances are shortening. Mid-August is arguably the best time of all but the season does run much earlier and later. We’re also talking about big, big fish here – certainly three and four hundred pounders but tuna of five hundred to a thousand pounds are always possible. For this reason you’ve got to use heavy-duty gear. We’re talking a hundred and thirty pound test with 16/0s allied with three or even four hundred pound traces. The reason behind this is not only that the fish are big but also that they battle brutally. They’ll pick up your mackerel bait with a screaming run and then give a wonderful fight. They run long and hard, always pushing deeper. You won’t see them tail-walking but that doesn’t take anything away from the wonder of the fight. These are fish that just never give in.
What you really don’t want – for your comfort as much as anything else – is stormy weather and you’ll often find these colossal fish pretty close in – certainly around four or five miles. The mackerel are the key and these are the major prey of the tuna shoals. Of course, you’re never quite sure at what level the mackerel are running and where the fish will be feeding – though on some blessed occasions you will actually see the tuna hit into shoals of mackerel on the surface. Could there be a more exciting sight on the seas?
It’s most common to use balloons as floats and set your baits – live mackerel – at differing depths. For example, work some on the surface, others at mid-water and others down deep, just off the bottom. One of the preferred methods is to use a live mackerel and troll it very slowly behind the boat. You’ll be in no doubt when a tuna is on… prepare for absolute fireworks.
Derek Noble really is the expert in rediscovering the tuna fishing of Ireland. He reckons that late August on to October is the very best time for these amazing fish. They probably hang on later than that but weather, of course, is a major problem. There’s certainly no shortage of fish. Some of the groups, he reckons, are only five or six strong but thirty to forty is probably more common. And just occasionally he’s seen hundreds, areas of water twice the size of a football pitch just erupting with these monsters. Derek does mean monsters. The average size of tuna that he’s taking at the moment is something over three hundred pounds and that’s nothing to what he’s seeing. Only the other day – in October 2001 – he saw a colossal fish come out of the water about seventy yards away from his boat – a fish well over four hundred pounds. This is really thrilling stuff and you don’t necessarily have to hook into a fish to appreciate the day if you see them as close as this. As he says, to watch the seabirds sheer off the surface as these monsters plough through the waves is a sight never to be forgotten.
One thing that Derek heavily stresses is a catch and release policy. It’s important to be seen doing our bit for the future. Though a tuna can be valuable, it has to be taken in and iced as quickly as possible… not something you want to do if you’re intent on enjoying a day’s sport. So put the monetary side right out of your mind and just enjoy one of the most incredible sport-fishing experiences in the world today. And it’s virtually on our doorstep! Ring Derek Noble on 0669474176 for details.
Talking big predators, let’s just look at one or two unexpected pike hideaways. And I mean big ones. I suppose I’ve always had in my mind a benchmark of thirty-five pounds or so – or thereabouts – the sort of weight that would get your capture into Fred Buller’s masterpiece the Domesday Book of Mammoth Pike. I’m fortunate that I’ve had a pike myself that would have got me into the list and I’ve seen another couple at least of that sort of size, however, they’ve all been from trout reservoirs and I’m not absolutely sure if these fish actually ‘count’…you’ve got to admit they’re a bit on the artificial side.
So, where would you go for a truly wild, absolute monster?
Well, until just two or three years ago I would certainly have said the huge limestone lakes of western Ireland – Mask, Conn and Corrib. The pike there have always been persecuted by the fisheries people, netting them to supposedly preserve the trout fishing. This is a matter of huge debate: my own view is that taking all pike out simply leads to an explosion of jacks. You’re far better off taking the jacks and putting back everything over ten or twelve pounds or so. But this isn’t the p lace for a political argument. The question is, does Mask, arguably the best of the three, still offer a realistic chance of a monster. Well…possibly we’re stretching it but there’s no doubt that really massive fish still exist there. Is it worth fishing it? Well, I would say so: if I were to go again – and it’s one of my favourite places on earth – I think what I’d do is troll a big bait and that way I’d cover the water, perhaps stand more chance of finding a fish and also stand a realistic opportunity of putting a ferox trout in the boat. So that you’ve got two bites at the cherry.
The Broads? Well, there’ll always be huge fish here to be caught by those in the know. Yes, they have been hit by increasing tourism, the problem with salinity and algae blooms and, or course, over-fishing. But, the rumours are on the grapevine that there are still some very big fish out there to be caught. My advice would be to go out for a few days with one of the local Broadland expert who give tuition and help with location. Richard Furlong, I know personally and can guarantee will give of his best. He’s also great company. Contact him on
But, if it’s monsters that we’re really looking at then my own view would be to travel north, up into Scotland. And I’d head for the great glen. Ness itself is possibly just too big a challenge unless you’ve got unlimited time, patience and experience. Not to mention a fair bit of endurance! However, a much smaller loch to the west, Oich, offers a real chance of a big and very wild fish. The biggest I’ve had from the water have been low thirties but that doesn’t mean to say that the biggest have been caught by any stretch of the imagination. This is a big water and the pike can travel immense distances up and down the Ness system. If money weren’t too much of an object I’d stay at the Glengarry Castle Hotel in Invergarry. The hotel has boats on the loch which give you a tremendous advantage over the bank fishermen. I’ve done best there in the past by keeping on the move, trolling big plugs is not a bad idea or even dead baits. Look for surface activity. A fish finder is not a bad investment. And when you hook these fish they really make your heart race. They fight just as well as any pike I’ve ever come across. There are other very interesting lochs close by – Loch Garry has a reputation and so, a little further north, do Lochs Loyne and Clunie.
SEARCHING OUT THE SEASHORE
More and more freshwater anglers are beginning to realise that our coastline offers real opportunities for the man with freshwater gear. In fact, bass really are the new rock and roll! These are fantastic fish that are being caught in increasingly large numbers pretty well around our whole coastline. I talked about them as far north as Uist fairly recently and the coast round my home village on the North Norfolk coast has been heaving with them all the way through the summer. The south coast, Wales, all the Irish shores, the southwest… you name it and bass are there to be caught.
They’re also catchable in the most thrilling of ways. If the water is clear enough, try fly fishing for them with any fly that imitates something small and silvery like an elver or sand eel or small fish. If the water is a little murky, okay, go with a spinner or a small popping plug. If the water is even murkier then try a crab or a bunch of lugworms. You can touch ledger for them much as you do with a barbel. The great thing about it is that you rarely need anything heavier than what you’ve already got in your pike fishing hut… and sometimes you can get away with lighter than that. My own tip is to ask for really detailed local advice or to go out with an expert. If you’re anywhere near the east coast, a really great man to contact is Stewart Smalley. He can be contacted through Aldeburgh Tackle on 01728 454030. He offers a fantastic surface and if you’re new to bass fishing this is a real peach of an introduction.
Bass aren’t all that we’ve got on offer. It could be that a big sea trout will nab your fly or lure. They’re on the increase as well. But why not, definitely try mullet? They swarm pretty well all our river estuaries throughout the summer months. They come in great numbers and they are catchable on freshwater float gear with something like bread or maggot on the hook. You can, if you’re lucky, also take them on small gold-headed flies. Mullet fight like crazy. They’re also really exciting to hunt because you’ll often see them as the tide comes in and they patrol the mudflats. Often you’ll see huge groups of fish virtually with their backs out of the water. It’s as near to English bone fishing as you can possibly get.
AND THE REST?
As I’ve said, these shores really do offer a lot. Quests I’ve either enjoyed or dreamt about over the years have included fishing for gillaroo trout on Lough Kelvin, a beautiful water that straddles the border between north and south Ireland. These are magnificent fish, sadly ones I’ve only yet seen in a photograph. Or how about really getting down to exploring the Wye for barbel? One or two short lengths are open for barbel fishing but there’s still a vast amount of water that’s never seen a coarse fisherman’s bait. Phone Angling Travel on 01263 761602 for some good ideas here.
Or how about ferox fishing? This really is one of the most exciting opportunities Scotland, the Lake District and the glacial lakes of Ireland have to offer. I’ve been fortunate enough to see ferox trout and to catch them and, believe me, the experience is monumental. Or Porbeagle shark even? Okay, once again, they’ve proved beyond me in the past but one of my great friends put in just five days off the north Scottish coast one winter some seven or eight years ago and took a five hundred pounder, a three hundred pounder and lost another couple of fish that he said were simply titanic. The possibilities are there.
Something smaller, a little less daunting but still dramatic perhaps? Well, every year just a few rivers still experience a dramatic shad run. These twaite shad can be caught on fly or spinner and they fight majestically. Okay, they only grow to a couple of pounds or so but that doesn’t detract from them in the least. They’re simply fantastic. I recommend phoning Pete Smith at the Caer Beris Manor Hotel on 01982 552601. His hotel is a peach for the angler and he’ll be able to put you onto some really good shadding around late May time.