Another fishing hangover continues into Tuesday from the weekend and has me wondering if I am getting too old for this lark… But try and stop me when this type of fixed-time, lure-only species hunt format is just so incredibly exciting and the vibe amongst competitors is just ace!
The weekend of the 1st October 2022 saw a group of anglers descend on Weymouth to fish the inaugural ‘LRF24’ lure-only, 24-hour species hunt, part of the larger goings-on of ‘Reel Masters’ – a new saltwater & predator competition and show.
Details in the lead-up to the LRF competition had been sketchy, including moving the start time by 24 hours. In retrospect, this was the right decision but unfortunately contributed to a relatively low turn-out by comparison to recent LRF species hunt events. I have sympathy for the show organisers. There was clearly a lot going on at once and they did well to launch so much. Just running a public LRF event would be enough for most people! I hope this event returns and grows on this launch event.
Having said that, I was not at all surprised that the first faces I saw were of the extremely familiar Cornish contingent – Josh & Will – who had driven down for, let’s face it, the opportunity to compete for the biggest prize pot in LRF to-date – including £800 in cash across 1st, 2nd and 3rd. There were other big-hitters also present. It wasn’t going to be easy to take home the readies.
Apparently, anywhere East of Devon and South of Birmingham means I’m a local. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard from the past few years of competing! But the reality is I’m not local anywhere. I live in one of those places that’s not close to anywhere, but close enough to everywhere. To set things straight, I live over 2 hours drive from Weymouth and have to travel through three counties to get there! The point of this ramble is to highlight that you don’t need to be a local to figure high up in the rankings. Don’t give yourself that excuse. Because at 2am, in the rain, bite-less and on your own, it’s that stuff that plays on your mind. Again, we come back to our old friend, Confidence.
My ‘confidence’ is an app I made to log catch results. It could quite easily be a note pad, or some results scribbled in your phone. But the point is, I can’t remember everything that ever happened, ever, while fishing. And I know that the human mind plays tricks. This log is a handy aid. I appreciate that for some people this may detract from the fun of fishing. But I guess those people aren’t necessarily putting themselves forward for a 24-hour competition. Anyway, I just wanted to share a little about my prep. Which gets me back to the story of this weekend.
I’ve said details were thin before the start of the event, and that lead to the first, inevitable spanners being launched in to my ‘winning plan’. A few minutes before the start, at registration, we learned that there were a few areas that were out-of-bounds. Some due to other events going on, and others due to the necessary arrangements with Weymouth’s accommodating Harbour Master. Some of this news wiped out a good part of my plan, but I was reasonably sure that it wiped out a good part of other visitors’ plans also. Game on.
One of the things I get wrong in quite a lot of these species hunt competitions is fishing for ‘standard’ species. You know, the species that you are highly likely to bump into during 24 hours of fishing – even blindfolded! But a few bites, and some early species settles the nerves and builds confidence. So once I’d said my goodbyes and good lucks to my fellow competitors, I found a spot and started building a tally. This approach offered me my first gift of the event.
It was a blustery old day. I clocked three anglers in the general location of where I wanted to fish and straight away recognised the look of a group of visiting boat anglers that had had their charter trip cancelled. I’ve been there. Your group has checked in to its lodgings for the week, the main event gets cancelled and you try to find some other fishing to keep you out the pub – at least until the afternoon!
I said hello, we got chatting, and it turned out that they were over from Belgium for a massive 5-day, international boat tournament. I was very much happy to chat about it all as we fished, despite feeling I had my work cut-out competing with three anglers using bait. They already knew about our 24-hour lure competition. A sign that these guys were proper anglers and interested in every avenue of our sport. As most of you reading this no doubt are. It was a great vibe to the start of the competition and at times even felt like we were fishing as a team. Congratulating each other on new species. Brothers, I suppose. Connected by this wonderful passion for angling. One fella, Jens, even called out a fifteen-spined stickleback that he spotted under a pontoon. I politely showed effort for precisely 3 seconds before proclaiming, “no chance”! And I knew he understood exactly what I meant :0)
I blew nearly four hours on that spot for 6 beautiful but ‘ordinary’ species and failed on securing ‘the one I wanted’, or the ‘bonus’ fish that the bait anglers discovered. But sat here thinking about the weekend, this episode was very much a highlight of the weekend. Having exchanged social media details, I look forward to seeing how the three gentlemen from Belgium fair in their own competition this week. Good luck to them.
Before I explain the impending time pressure of the LRF24 ‘power hour’, it makes me think about how stressful a 24-hour species competition can be. Even though I find myself muttering, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. I might have to improve on that. The reality is that in a 24-hour window, you only have one shot at a state of tide. At least at this time of year. One in the daylight, and one in the dark. Deep down you know this relates to various species and locations. Stress!
Four hours in, at 4 o’clock, was designated ‘Social Hour’. Really just some enforced downtime for all competitors to grab some food or enjoy the rest of the show. I found this hour to be very anti-social. Especially hearing about Josh and Will’s Baillons Wrasse and Audrius’ (The Bream Machine) bream – among others! Obviously, I say ‘anti-social’ in jest. The vibe remained positive. It was good to catch up some more and inhale a sausage roll. I find it peculiar that I can be worried about missing species with nearly 19 more hours of fishing left. But the pain is real!
5 o’clock’s ‘Power Hour’ approached. The Power Hour was an exciting addition to the format where by all competitors would fish a designated area in close proximity. That area was Weymouth’s Pleasure Pier. An area that was out-of-bounds for the rest of the hunt due to other activities being run. For instance, the commendable getting-people-into-angling campaign. Where the Power Hour was interesting was that your species tally was wiped clean and every species you caught would count double. Your total from the Power Hour would then be added to your species tally for the rest of the event. For instance, if you caught a Pollack in the normal competition, that would be one point. But if you caught another Pollack in the Power Hour, that would be two points AND be added to the main total. Meaning you could theoretically earn three points for each species in the whole competition. Make sense?
I must admit, I was excited for this. I found myself running at one point! (I’ll pay for that) Main conclusion: The quickest hour of my life! Second conclusion: It’s amazing what you can’t catch in an hour. Where were all the 10cm Pollack?!!
It was hardly fish-soup down there, for anyone. I managed four species in Power Hour, which felt disappointing, but in the grand scheme of things I’d done alright. I was quite chuffed with a Dragonet, under pressure. Even though it offered no more advantage than a Corkwing would have. The only disappointment for me was hearing that Will – a real contender for top spot overall – had had five species. Those extra 2 points (4×2=8 vs 5×2=10) meant I had a mountain to climb. There were quite a few deflated faces and sunk shoulders at the end of the hour. I’m not sure it had been the leveller that the organisers had hoped. Although I hope that this kind of mini-game idea continues. Much fun.
Quick anecdote. Tongue-in-cheek, the main downside of this format was the required maths! I find it hard to answer at the best of times when, 18 hours in, with the rain pouring down, eyes barely open, and another LRFer asks innocently, “how many are you on?” But throw in some maths and man, I’m brain-dead. I think people thought I was being cagey. But I could barely tie a knot at points. Never mind arithmetic!
Anyway, it matters not what you’re on. Only what species is next. It’s about managing old father Confidence again. A phrase that seems to have jumped from US bass tournaments to UK reservoir comps is “leave it all out there”. I think it’s very apt for species hunting. Certainly the state of Will and Josh at the end of these long-format hunts, it’s clear to everyone that they both put everything into their tallies.
Back to the main species hunt. I’m struggling. Or rather, focused on adding something from my medium or bonus categories of species, it isn’t going very well. Light fades away.
LRF in darkness isn’t my strength. Maybe something about my obligatory long drive home. Probably an advantage if you live close to the sea. I’m jealous. But the upside is an obvious change in proceedings – everything has gone dark! And a changing-of-the-guard in terms of species. A real opportunity to add to the tally. I couldn’t have picked a worse time to hit my wall. A real funk descended.
The plan was good. I was reasonably confident of Scad (a night-time must), Pouting, Whiting and the outside chance of a Flounder and Bass. Tick the first three off and my reward was a few hours sleep, ahead of an early morning attack. But my mind and body were failing in the rain. Knots seemed to take forever, and some even failed. My hands looked like I’d fallen asleep in the bath for hours. Those chunks of damaged skin don’t play nice with PE0.2 #angryface
I’d ended up in a popular spot on the South side of the harbour and it was fairly sociable. I enjoyed chatting with Audrius (The Bream Master) and was genuinely delighted to see a large Leopard-spotted Goby caught by Stephen Rowland. Such a cool creature. Andy Mytton had turned up, despite the rainy conditions and not actually competing, and again, I really enjoyed chatting. I was attempting to execute the Whiting part of my plan. As I was chatting with Andy I was catching fish, but not what I had in mind. Everything was tossed back. This will be important later!
While we were chatting, there was a small explosion on the surface. Local, Andy instantly knew what it was. I devoted zero brain cells to that deduction, as I knew it wasn’t a Whiting! Andy starts to fish and it isn’t long before he’s lifting a Scad shoreward. Shit! I’m set-up for Whiting. More laborious knot-tying! It seems like everyone is catching Scad around me. Even once I’m set-up I’m fishing like a $#&£! I recognise the symptoms. I’ve gone full zombie. I shuffle off. Hoping I might fall in and escape the misery.
My memory doesn’t appear to work well once zombie-mode descends. Or perhaps Mytton slipped me some rohypnol so he could touch my tackle? Anyway, next memory I find myself in Weymouth’s Inner Harbour. Pretty sure that I’m “off-script” at this point. At least this is enjoyable, visual fishing in the shallow water. By way of an actual update. It’s around 11pm. I haven’t added any new species to my main tally since 20-past two! By my reckoning, that’s nearly 9 hours!!!!!!!!! I’m still on 6 species. Very nearly dead in the water. Literally and metaphorically.
My frankly pointless flounder stare is interrupted by a flash. Then another. It’s like my morning alarm going off and dragging me from a dream. Or in this case a nightmare. I slowly come around. Straining hard I’ve just about got the wits about me to identify that there are two Scad whizzing about in one foot of water trying to intercept small smelt. I strike a bargain with myself that if I catch the Scad I can go to sleep for a few hours.
I have no idea what I used. Probably something completely inappropriate for Scad. But my phone reliably informs me that at 12 minutes past eleven I have a Scad in hand. Seven species and we’re moving again.
Sleepy-time. Oh sh*t! As I upload my Scad photo to the organisers it dawns on me that I don’t have a Pouting. I’m sure I had Pouting. I was throwing them back when I was chatting with Andy in town. Scroll. Scroll. Scroll. “You utter nob!” I wish I could share the expression on my face. I’m pulling it now. It’s not a good look.
I did catch and log a Pouting. But it was in the Power Hour!
In a full-blown schitzo act, I metaphorically snatch back the aforementioned contract of sleep and tear it up, there and then. All bets are off. ‘We’ need a Pout.
When I get back to town where I’d been catching pout with Andy, it’s a much quieter affair. I guess everyone has secured their Scad and if they’re sensible gone to dry off and get some shut-eye. I seem to remember Audrius still plugging away for something. I’m buoyed, ever so slightly, by the freedom to position myself in my favourite spot. So I start casting. Just as my thoughts start to turn doubting and negative once again (it doesn’t take long), I get a bite. The solid-tip does its job, bends into the weight of the fish and gives it just enough time to get snagged on the hook. I gingerly retrieve. Thoughts of a well earned kip.
“Please be a pout. Please be a pout”. It’s not a pout. #sadface Hold on… No way. Can it be? The fish successfully swings to hand. It’s a mo-fo Whiting! Pow! A-D-R-E-N-A-L-I-N-E-R-U-S-H
It’s moments like these that I find so fascinating about these endurance fishing events and indeed us humans and sport in general. The tide has turned (metaphorically). I’m on a come back. You try and stop me. I have an undeflatable belief that someone is on my side.
I don’t care how I caught the Pouting. I do know it was a slog. But I did.
Sitrep. It’s 00:24. I’m on 9 species. Ten would have been nice to end the day, but deep in my head the lawyers are hastily drawing up the sleep contract once again. With a bit of lady-luck I had saved it. Enough to fight again tomorrow. I start the soggy walk back to the van. I turn a corner…
What was that?!
I’m a good 30 feet from the beach. I’m not even on the promenade. I’m the other side of the road.
Hold on! It can only be one thing…
I reach the railings and look down at the water. Sure enough, a shoal of eight Bass up to around four-pound are getting medieval on a huge shoal of baitfish that they’ve herded into a corner. It was a privileged encounter and a great watch in the dead of night. Crystal clear water. Dead still by now. But I’ve got work to do. This is the best shot I’ll have at a bass. Perhaps all weekend.
Like a Ready Brek ad I’m glowing warm now – completely opposite to before. I’m a different man. The challenge is I’m not set up for this. The rod will manage I’m sure but what can I throw? The baitfish are all longer than 4-inch. A quick inventory check reveals the biggest shad I’m packing is a poultry two. “I’ll make it work”.
I mount the 2-inch shad on the biggest, heaviest round jighead I can find. The idea is that if I can fish it aggressively, the resistance of the head might make the lure appear bigger than it really is. I’m recalling my experience when I cast an Isome rig at a Swordfish and managed to turn it. True story! Plus I have darkness on my side.
I make myself disappear as much as possible in the shadows and start predicting where the bass will exit the darkness and blitz. It’s not an easy game and I’m all too aware that I’ve only got so long before the Bass work out that they’re the prey. It’s exciting stuff. My head is full of hope more than confidence though.
It seems like forever before my rod finally loads up. More adrenaline is welcome but potentially fatal this time. With a ‘crack’, the fish is gone. I apologise to the fish and sincerely hope he manages to remove the small lure. It feels like a suboptimal leader knot from before might have been the culprit. It’s a schoolboy error.
Not long after, another LRFer appears out the gloom. It’s Chris Hunter. We’d met earlier, and of course online before that. Chris is clearly getting the LRF bug, which is always great to see. I’m more than happy to draw his attention to what is going on with the Bass. He asks me what I’m throwing and I respond, “the wrong thing!” This chance encounter and my openness to share a discovery turns out to be a crucial turning point in the competition for me. But you’ll have to wait for that. In an act of kindness that has become particularly familiar within the LRF-family, Chris offers me a 4-inch shad from his box, along with a much more suitable jighead.
We cast around, but despite seeing a few solo fish marauding in, it’s clear that this drawn out episode has taken its toll and the aggressive shoal of Bass has melted away into the night… But I know they won’t be able to resist. #winkface
Chris and I go our separate ways and with a revenge plan forming for the Bass, I believe I’m done, again. Again, again.
Or maybe not. The baitfish! By this time I’d kind of narrowed them down to mullet, but not really which species. They didn’t look or behave like Thick-lipped. With it being a sandy beach I was leaning towards Golden Grey. Hard, yes. I’ve never done it. But I’ve seen it done a few times, right before my eyes. Perhaps I had too much adrenaline to sleep anyhow.
I was torn between using a fish or a worm imitation but opted for a small shad, only because I’d seen that done before. I felt that a moving bait was the way forward. And I knew I had numbers on my side. With the Bass now gone, there was a huge number of fish within casting distance. I just needed them to compete. Avoiding Bass is hungry work, surely!
And then it happened. Fish on! My immediate thought was I’d caught a small Bass. As it came to the net I could see it was actually a mullet. Caught fair and square. I’m 99.9% sure it was a Golden Grey Mullet which means it not only took me to double figures in the comp, but adds a new lure-caught species to my life list. I’ve said it before. LRF is the gift that keeps giving!
Time for some sleep. As I peeled off my wet clothes I was gaining confidence for the morning. I knew what I needed to target and in what order. A monumentous comeback suddenly felt plausible.
Three hours and twenty minutes of slumber passed all too quickly. Thank God I’d ended the previous night positively or I hate to think how many times I’d have hit snooze. It was still dark but dawn was approaching fast. When I reached the bass spot from the night before it was like it had been paused in freeze-frame. Exactly the same scene greeted me. Thick with mullet. The Bass had regained their confidence. On went the shad that Chris had generously lent to me. First cast and the lure hasn’t even made it out the shadows and there’s a splash and the rod hoops up. I’m relieved to see it’s a much smaller fish this time. I back off the drag all the same. Not one to rush. And after a few scary moments with the telescopic net, it’s in my hands. What a way to start! No time to celebrate though. Plenty more to be done.
My subconscious had been working on the plan. It was getting light now and I felt the Stone Pier offered the chance of a Mackerel or gar, as well as a couple of species I was more certain about. It was a long walk around and by the time I got there it was fairly light and sadly, quite busy. There was a group of non-competitors in one of the prime positions for metal work, still targeting squid, I presume from the night before. I thought we were dedicated!
Someone ‘helpfully’ informed me that I’d just missed the Mackerel, which was a slight kick in the nuts, but things move quickly in a species hunt. Perhaps I should have persisted with the metals but no-one seemed to be catching and my bream-spot was free. The rain started again, as forecast.
The first fish I hooked had me thinking ‘tiny bream’ but turned out to be a particularly red Corkwing. Enough to have me asking for second opinions from all and sundry. My wishful thinking for a Baillons was struck off.
People looked tired. The drizzle had progressed to rain and one by one an angler would retreat to somewhere less exposed. I’d looked over-dressed for most of the 24 hours but in the late stages my boat gear paid dividends. I was fairly comfortable.
About twenty casts in with my Caro rig, each exactly the same as the last, I lifted in to a fish and was delighted to see my rod flat-sticked and hear the drag singing, in those short bursts that only Black Bream deliver. I bravely tempted fate and called it. Sure enough it was and I swung a pretty little bream to hand. Number 12.
What next? Although by this time I almost had free range in position on the pier, the wind had picked up. It ruled out effective metal work on the side of the pier I would prefer for pelagics and gurnard. I made a gutsy call to go for Ballan Wrasse. Gutsy, only because I rarely catch them there. In fact, I haven’t logged a single Ballan there in the past four years. But it looks so perfect on the outer edge.
I needed help and summoned my mate Dan. Like ghost Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope, he was by my side (Dan’s still very much alive by the way – I just didn’t need to ring him!). “Use the plastic, Adam.” I knew he was right. I tied on a small, plastic creaturebait, as Dan would have and lowered it down the side. I suspected I didn’t need to be on the bottom so I worked the weed line. Almost instantly a shoal of Corkwing engaged like piranhas, which gave me some encouragement. Then maybe five yards further along a small Ballan shot out of nowhere and engulfed the lure like its life depended on it. It was pretty much a topwater bite! Magical. The timestamps on the fish photos outline how amazing this was for my confidence.
Including taking the photo with wet hands. #dropmic
Three hours left of competition and 13 species on the scorecard. There were still options but I opted to play it safe and target the easiest as I saw it – Sand Smelt. Everyone had been tormented by them all weekend. They were around in huge numbers but weren’t playing ball. At this point I called upon a learning from our reservoir fishing where you often need to find feeding fish, not just shapes on your electronic fish-finder. I had an inkling where I could find some feeding smelt in the rain, but it meant a lengthy change in position. More walking.
It was 10:35 when I finally swung a tiny Sand Smelt to hand. It gave me a nice period of time to find a scorpo and the sun was coming out. Life was good. Just as I was about to head to the next mark, I noticed a postage stamp sized amount of the seabed move. It was a tiny flounder.
These are my nemesis. It was only relatively recently that I learned that seemingly ‘everyone’ was using miniscule assist hooks to catch these finicky blighters. Rightly or wrongly, I just don’t use assists, so I was stuck with tying on my smallest hook and trying to do it oldskool. I had one hit. It missed the hook-point and that was the end of that. I don’t have any regrets in trying. It was right there!
Rather than go straight to my Scorpo mark I decided to walk back to the van to lose some gear. It was a mistake. But I’ll forgive myself that one. By the time I got fishing I had 15 minutes of fishing left. It was the coolest (and therefore most enjoyable) bit of fishing I did all weekend. No net. Trimmed down bag. Light rod. Jighead. Plastic creaturebait. Sunshine and little wind. It was down to the fish-gods now. Last roll of the dice. I had a bite every other cast. One felt particularly scorpion-like but alas didn’t engage and then right at last knockings I had a definite hit that resulted in another Bass, whose picture adorns this account. This game is a funny old business.
Before you learn the actual results, there’s a moment where you try to find peace with yourself. Looking for positives, I felt I’d shown good strength in character the night before to turn things around. Been happy with myself in taking the unexpected opportunities that presented themselves. And I’d had a particularly strong morning securing a good string of targets. I was happy.
I am happy. Even more happy having secured one hundred and fifty pound notes after sharing joint second with Josh Fletcher, I can tell you! And of course the rods and reels generously provided by Okuma. Thank you.
There was briefly a moment of horror when I received a text saying I’d tied with Josh on 22 points and we needed a fish-off. Imagine running a marathon and then being asked to do a hundred metre sprint! Thankfully we agreed to split 2nd and 3rd. Much more sensible!
Congratulations to Will Pender for taking 1st position with 23 points. Well played sir. You always make us work for it. Effort.
Thanks to everyone who took a punt on a new event and made it so friendly and enjoyable. Good to meet some new faces in LRF and familiar ones from other areas of our sport in a wider event. Thanks to the event sponsors; Okuma, Cox & Rawle, Sakuma and Red Gill. Thanks to Reel Masters and Oly in particular for putting on a new LRF event and fulfilling the advertised prize pot despite the turnout being below expectations. And thanks to Weymouth for allowing it to happen in this day and age. Weymouth really is an exceptional venue for species hunting from the shore. It’s insane what variation of fishing and species are available within walking distance. Truly a world-class venue.
See some of you next week at CLF22 to do it all again!