Back from another amazing time on the island of Alderney, fishing the 2013 Alderney Lure Only Species Hunt competition. It was, as expected, tremendous fun and has left me with the same empty feeling of unrequited love that I endured the last time I returned from fishing the incredible waters around Alderney. There is so much fishing to experience here. World class.
This time around, as the event title suggests, the agenda was a lure only species hunt. With competitors free to roam the 3 square miles of angling nirvana that is Alderney - the third biggest channel island.
Now for those in the know, Alderney is known as THE big fish destination in UK waters. It has a reputation for regularly throwing up oversize fish, as seen in the results of the Alderney Angling Festival each autumn. So this unusual, inaugural competition made a few people think harder by targeting the total number of species instead (although there were various prizes for longest fish of certain species).
All fish counted and I'm pleased to say the competition adopted catch and release by use of digital photography (mobile phone or camera), a unique laminated card and measure. While I'm not sure my angling improved over the 24 hour period, it did feel like I was making progress on improving the skills required to manhandle an angry little fish onto an uncontrollable tape measure (unruly?), whilst trying to stop my card from flying away in a gale, and taking a photo. All part of the fun!
Flying to Alderney is an event in itself. Tiny planes battle Atlantic weather systems to get you fishing. Aurigny is as friendly as an air operator gets. Picture the polar opposite of Ryanair. Getting rods to Alderney isn't as hard as you'd think either, but we left the 'long-tips' at home to be safe. Cardboard tube or plastic pipe is fine - I managed to squeeze in four light lure rods. You can check them in as part of your normal baggage allowance - no problem.
Then to the take off and landing... I won't spoil the fun but Alton Towers has nothing on this! [big grin]
In hindsight, we should have arrived on the island earlier to do our homework, but the dock area immediately offers an obvious starting place with a commercial quay, inner harbour and the impressive (imposing) breakwater - they sometimes see Porbeagles off here! And so, after a friendly registration at the Harbour Lights and the 12 noon start upon us, we headed straight for the breakwater. In fact about 80% of us did. It's a long old thing and a bit overwhelming as a visiting angler so we held off from going straight to the only obvious feature (the end) and fished about half way along. The polaroids registered rocks and weed along the base, dropping off to deep water and what looked like sand. All good.
Because of the deep water I opted to start with metals and tried to see if there were any pelagics working the water column. Sadly I couldn't find any but it was immediately apparent there were hundreds, if not thousands of Pollock, all about 4 inches long. I ignored the first few before submitting and adding one to the card. I was on the scoresheet at least!
After too long trying to find something else I switched over to dropshot to mine the bottom for interest. I hadn't done too much preparation, certainly not enough (bloody work getting in the way), but I was confident I needed to fish drop shot on the LRF outfit due to the windy conditions and long drop from the top of the breakwater to the water. It would allow me to easily change leads up to 10g or even over-gun the light gear to 14g if required. Thankfully in this particular location we got away with a lot less. Comfortable fishing. It wasn't long until a small Ballan was tempted out of the weed and we had 2 species. That effectively meant I had 23 hours to try and avoid any more Pollock and Ballan Wrasse! How do you think that went? ;0)
With high water upon us already, I was surprised we hadn't had anything else. There were other fish there for sure but with something missing from our technique we decided to cut our losses and move to the inner harbour, which is tide dependent. It was the one mark we'd managed to recce in the morning. We'd seen there were mini beasts and spotted a couple of Mullet too. When we got there we were pleased to find we had the mark to ourselves so split up and began to work it. Both of us were fairly quickly into Shanny [would you believe, my first of the year - I'm supposed to be a 'blenny botherer'!].
And so the hunt continued. When the wind dropped occasionally, it allowed us a brief view of the sea bed before ripples reformed. We could make out good size gobies. It didn't take too much to snare one once we had found them. As I swung the first in I thought 'Black Goby' out of habit, but after closer inspection it was clear it was a Giant Goby. Awesome. My first ever in UK waters. In a tag team stylee, I tapped Dan in to snare his. Boom! Three a piece.
My memory goes hazy then, but somehow before you know it, the light is starting to dim. We've had nothing other than another ton of Pollock interspaced with Ballan - typically. With no real plan we opt to return to the ever looming breakwater to see if the change in light has brought in Mackerel, Garfish or Scad.
It doesn't. Or not near us anyway. And as darkness approaches, forcing us to make another rushed call for a change of mark, I make a schoolboy error. I drop a Gulp Sandworm into the kelp and immediately attach my light outfit to a decent Ballan. Now the tide had dropped considerably it was immediately apparent that this fish wasn't haulable up such a vast distance, so as it lay on the surface of the water looking at me, I could only stare back thinking 'now what?' It was a beautiful coloured fish - the bright golden variety - and there was no way I wanted to risk leaving it attached to a swinging dropshot lead. At this point I'm literally seeing one of the best fishing times of the day pass me by and wondering; why did I do that? Why don't I have a drop net? And why am I fishing so light? #bellend
While I'm standing there, being useless, Dan has legged it down to the end of the breakwater to see if anyone has a drop net.
Meanwhile as I'm standing around wishing we could just move on from this predicament and forget all about it, none other than Sea Angler's roving reporter, Paul Fenech approaches. I failed miserably at looking invisible. As my embarrassment grows further, I'm now drawing a small crowd as competitors return from the end of the jetty. Bloody hell.
Actually, everyone was really nice. They would have been more than justified in joining me in insulting my behaviour, but inline with the entire event, everyone joined the banter and had a laugh.
In the end, after much searching by Dan - thanks Dan - and some dexterous handiwork by none other than angling legend, Anne Woodcock - thanks Anne - we had a serviceable drop net and the wrasse was retrieved. All I can take from this episode is the vain hope that the photographs that Paul kindly took of the fish are acceptable for his requirements. Photoshop can apparently work wonders on my face-for-radio. I'm genuinely pleased to say that after the terrific joint effort, the fish swam away.
Time to reflect, regroup and come up with a plan. Inspiration came in the shape of the best battered sausage and chips I think I have ever eaten (no honestly, check out the Braye Chippy when you're over).
Too late in the day and with headtorches already illuminated we discover a top mark. The tide is low now. We're arriving when others are leaving and with tales of what 'was' caught we start about seeing what we've been left. We find small Pouting and I manage to jam out a tiny Poor Cod. It feels fishy and occasional grey shapes in the distant gloom keep us interested, but the fact of the matter is we're in the right place at the wrong time. At this point of the tale, you're right to assume I'm not telling you about the hundreds of tiny Pollock we're still being plagued by. Today they're unwanted pests, but Alderney is certainly 'alive' with fish.
It's time for some shut eye - a power nap at least - before a very early start and an attack on a rock mark with the hope of a Bass and certainly some bigger Wrasse and Pollock for the prizes.
It is really only at this point in the early morning that I remember how special Alderney is. We have relatively easy access to a superb looking rock mark and have the place to ourselves. We know we are surrounded by fish. Fish that are relatively unfished by mainland standards. Once it is light we can see the descending chaos of dawn. Dozens of Gannets are smashing into the water all around us, out of casting distance, but not too far offshore. Cormorants and Shags are gorging themselves - no doubt on all those little Pollock (with some satisfaction from me I have to say) and then two gigantic seals pop their heads up right in front of us. They're fixated on us as we are on them and it almost feels like they've never seen another human before. Wishful thinking perhaps, but it's the closest I've come to feeling that a place is truly wild and untouched since being in the remotest corners of Australia, many moons ago.
The fishing is fairly immaterial at this point. We've arrived. This is what it's all about. I'm an angler again. Any strong intentions to feature in the prizes for personal or financial gain have faded away. Nor do I care that my Patchinko is being ignored for the hundredth time in seemingly perfect conditions. And when I do zone back in upon hooking a nice Wrasse on a Savage Sandeel, rather than land it with the distaste of the last, I'm buzzing. In fact I'm now intentionally tackling up for these beautiful Ballan Wrasse. This is f^$#ing awesome! And by the content look on Dan's face, he thinks so too.
I haven't left yet and I'm already thinking that I need to come back.
It's only the very real need for us to check out of our B&B that pulls us away from that place.
Bouyed by the morning's events and after a rushed evacuation from the charming 'Town House', we get back to the matter at hand - it's for pride now!
We've got a couple of hours left. The wind has shifted around to the west and is strengthening, but that breakwater looks fishable. We can't let it beat us.
To our surprise, we have it to ourselves this morning, so we venture up to the end. Still no Garfish or Mackerel want to play but with the pressure of the clock we don't hang about this time. Now with a few hours of contemplation behind us, it feels like the mini species might be sitting above the weed, just below the surface. They are and it's Dan that's first to crack the code - a nice Corkwing. That's better. Why didn't we do this earlier. Tag team.
I love fishing tag team with Dan. Maybe it's because we've fished together for years and merged our styles, or maybe it's because we have to when we're fishing light in the confined space of our boat - the odd knit-one-purl-one goes with the territory with close quarter battles afloat. Dan's found an eddy and when you get a bait in there, you generate interest. We're alternately hooking the obligatory Pollock and Ballan Wrasse but we're both getting 'interesting' little bites from time to time too.
Classic LRF species hunt scenario. You've lifted delicately into a shy bite. There's weight. Vibrations play up the braid and through the Japanese carbon. You play your senses off in a lightning quick game of Guess Who in your mind. It's not got the slow, low down power of a Ballan. It doesn't feel like the last ten thousand Pollock. It's rattly like a Dragonet, but that wouldn't be living here. Too late. You lose. It's already at the surface. Got a good feeling. What is it?
If I hadn't have been blessed with one of these jewels earlier in the year I wouldn't have got it.
That one helped on the pride count. Dan is enthused and back in there while I photograph and measure.
He doesn't know it but I'm impressed with Dan. He's playing LRF games on the hard setting. While I spinelessly bow down to the confidence boosting Isome, Dan is using proper, unflavoured plastics. 'Good on you' I'm thinking. It's with some level of sorrow when I see Dan drop the only Scorpion Fish of the trip, just inches from his hand. That one hurt us both.
The last 15 minutes are desperate and frantic. I've lost gear. Some set ups are permanently out of action now and I'm fishing the last remaining outfit with two wind knots on the spool - having to lift each and every ring of line manually over the loops until the knot passes the spool lip. It's far from perfect but as I lift into another small bite I feel something familiar, but different. Yes, it's a Corkwing. C'mon!
Somewhere in the region of twenty fishing hours have passed and despite catching literally hundreds of fish, I only have eight species to show for it. It's rubbish really. I know it isn't Alderney's fault. Or the weather. Or the tide. I'm gutted but we did address our sins toward the end and I have some cracking memories from the weekend. I love it. Tired, I still want to do it all over again. I'm addicted to this fishing and I'm addicted to Alderney.
The results are very much secondary to the enjoyment of the event, but I must mention two local anglers in particular - Nigel Bowditch (19 species) and Matt Smith (15 species). Throughout the event these guys took us all apart with a dazzling display of finesse, skill and fishcraft. Well done chaps. You defended your home soil, and some. But we'll be back! :0)
While I could be disappointed by Nigel's performance compared to my own, I was kind of glad for Alderney's sake that the locals showed us what it had to offer. I can easily see myself coming back over on a pleasure trip to have a go at the rarer species. By way of a record, here is a list of the species caught in a 24-hour period from Alderney's shore: Tompot Blenny, Pollock, Black Goby, Rock Goby, Black Bream, Giant Goby, Pouting, Dragonet, Shanny, Goldsinny Wrasse, Whiting, Leopard Spotted Goby, Scad, Poor Cod, Lesser Sandeel, Golden Grey Mullet, Ballan Wrasse, Bass, Corkwing Wrasse, Thick Lipped Mullet, Mackerel, Garfish, Rock Cooks Wrasse and Shore Rockling.
Me? I was as surprised as anyone to learn I had won Longest Overall Length of Species Registered by an Overseas Angler and came 4th overall for which I'm extremely pleased to have taken home a beautiful Major Craft Turel LRF rod, 2 nights complementary accommodation at Mark Harding's Alderney angling retreat and a TLF hoody. It's wide open for next year chaps. Bring all your mates!
Finally, a special thank you to all the generous sponsors backing this inaugural event: