Not long back from the 2023 Cornish Lure Festival fishing the Species event. And I really enjoyed it.
I was surprised when a few weeks before this year’s event Dan dropped CLF into conversation. Surprised, because I’m not sure either of us fully enjoyed the Falmouth in-game event that was conceived in CLF 2022. Plus for 2023, the Species category had a second prescribed event at Mevagissey. What we liked about the old format was a group of mates shooting all over Cornwall trying to rack up species in some stunning locations. For us visitors it can be the only time each year that we get to experience some of what Cornwall has to offer. But time moves on. I’m sounding old already!
Regardless, the CLF is the UK’s lure fishing festival and feels like we should be there supporting it.
I did my very best trying to persuade Dan and Chris that we should enter the wrasse event. But I failed!
So after a hurried repack we hit the A303 on our way to Meva.
The first event was a straight up species race roaming around Mevagissey harbour. I fell into the trap of following the dropshot Isome crowd and had a really slow start. The only thing memorable from that first session was targeting Garfish on the metal. I ended the session on a below par 5 species, and only a few hours into a 48 hour fishing competition I already knew I was out of contention.
Dan, on the hand had done great and joint-lead with 8 species, including a high-scoring, bonus rarity with a Leopard-spotted Goby. As it turned out, that goby won him the daytime Meva event on points, and a pocket full of cashola.
The following event had our name all over it. 90 minutes of non-flavoured lures only, through dusk and into darkness. I have probably done more of this style of fishing this year than any other. I’ve really enjoyed getting back into it. Fall rates, retrieve rates, lure styles and so on. But I still sucked, somehow. In hindsight we picked the wrong spot on the breakwater. We found numbers of Pollack instantly. They remained with us briefly into darkness and then evaporated. I dropped 3 of them before finally catching a large Sand Smelt on a Reins Aji Meat, in the gloom. Thankfully Dan managed to capitalise better and landed 3 Pollack. Not amazing, but kept him in the race.
Despite sucking, I really enjoyed the Meva Night Game session. I could have done with a bit longer. 90 minutes disappeared in a flash. I was really enjoying trying to unlock the code.
With Dan in a strong position and the best of the weather upon us before it broke the next morning, it was clear that we needed to fish Fowey and tick off some valuable night-time species… But instead we opted for Dominoes and an early night! Things have changed :0)
Full and relatively rested we hit up Charlestown first thing on the Saturday morning. The weather was foul. Just looking at Chris in his shorts and flip-flops made me cold. The strong wind made fishing hard. The tide was ebbing but the current was flowing in the wrong direction, such was the wind’s ferocity. It made finding feeding fish hard. The mark was busy but not much was coming out. A couple of anglers found their weevers which offered the rest of us just enough encouragement to keep going.
I had opted for a 3 gram metal jig, spending most of my effort managing my line in the cross-wind. On one hop there was a barely noticeable change in line tautness and the reward for my persistence was a nice little Tub Gurnard. Not long after, Dan found his weever which neither Chris nor I could recreate. Thankfully, old species hunting friends Ross & Matt went out of their way to inform us where they had found a few. Once again, highlighting the excellent camaraderie found at these kinds of LRF events. It wasn’t long before I was swinging in my weever on the metal.
We were all pleased to warm up in the car on the way to the Falmouth event, for noon.
The Falmouth event effectively followed the same format as last year. 3 zones. 3 groups. Rotated regularly. Then a fourth zone after dark that everyone fished simultaneously. Scoring was again rather complicated with points allocated for length, species count and bonuses for the largest of each species.
The first hurdle was the same issue as last year. There was hardly any water for the first sessions. Which meant if you secured an area with water you did well. And if you didn’t, well, you obviously struggled. I was pleased to see that this year one of the smaller zones had self-imposed a rotation approach so at least everyone had a chance of catching something. Well done to whoever came up with that.
I did well for perhaps the first 20 minutes of the day until the monotony of targeting small gobies and Corkwing got the better of me. I did try metal at least at one point with the hope of earning some hero points but alas it wasn’t to be.
I was pleased to hear the whistle at the end of the third session. The fourth session on the pier was something to look forward to. It was nearing high water, the light was starting to fade and the pier had ample lighting. Last year a number of Scad came out to those targeting them. The drizzle didn’t dampen my optimism.
Luckily, my third session ended nearest to the pier and therefore I was able to secure a prime position under a floodlight. Almost the moment the session started I had my first Scad, a small one, and by the number of touches I was getting there were a fair few about. Dan and Chris both secured a nice sized Scad each whilst I was still plugging away at the mini ones. In the end I finished the session with 5 Scad which felt decent. I remember thinking that I’d at least made up for my poor showing at the Meva evening event.
It had been a long day. I reconvened with my homies at the car and we discussed our options. Dan felt like he was still in contention. Which meant only one thing. We needed to fish on for extra species. Very quickly the previous night’s decision to eat pizza over fishing became a clear error of judgement (not something you’ll hear me say often!). We found ourselves fishing the right spots in the wrong weather and it was horrid. Chris and I had chosen to hold back to give Dan the best chances. I’d only taken a rod to best articulate to Dan where I was confident of a Bass. After retiring to a safe area away from the killzone, of course it was me that hooked a Bass. Typical!
It wasn’t the best end to the day. Especially knowing that by stealing a bit of time at the end of Saturday it effectively meant we’d lose some time on Sunday morning. We retired our tired old bodies to our rooms.
100% Dan was the first of us to surface on Sunday morning. Having fished many competitions with Dan, I knew he would wake up with a clear plan and he did. Whilst I resuscitated myself with a hot cup of rosie lee, he talked me through it. Meva offered him Ballan Wrasse, Dragonet and Goldsinny. I needed a scorp instead of the Goldsinny, so it worked for me too. Chris had similar targets.
This last morning was perhaps the most enjoyable of my weekend’s fishing. I love having a plan and trying to execute it. It also allowed me to flex the soft plastics and demonstrate to myself at least, that SPs can out-fish Isome sometimes. I seem to be on a one-man mission around this recently. (You might have missed it!)
So we rock up at Meva and Ballan is our first target. I leave Dan to our chosen mark while I try to refresh my memory of the preferred area for Dragonets. Within seconds I hear Dan shout and look over to see him holding a nice little Ballan. It’s on!
We switch positions, talking each other through what we’ve learned so far, if only to increase our own confidence. I quickly set-up a small free rig with a creature bait to mimic what Dan was using and on my very first cast I get the classic single tap of a Ballan Wrasse killing a creature bait. Boom! One down, two to go.
I re-join Dan at my chosen Dragonet spot. I don’t have any reasonable non-flavoured approach to ‘dragons’. Maybe one day. So I tied on a simple split shot rig and over-weight it to allow for the depth. You need the rig hard on the bottom for the drag method. Thankfully, I’m quickly rewarded with a tiny rattle, although it doesn’t stick. It could have been anything, but something tells me it was the target. Whilst I continue, Dan moves off to scout out a possible Goldsinny. Not long after, another rattle but this time when I lift there is a bit of weight! As the fish reaches the surface it is so small I can’t actually be sure of the species until it swings to hand. Yes! It’s a beautiful little Dragonet.
Two down in quick time and one more reasonable target to go. The Sea Scorpion. But there is history. And baggage, weighing on my mind. We had our best ever result in the 2014 Cornish Lure Festival. The final result of the 2014 event was Dan in first with 17 species, pipping Josh to the top spot on species points. I came third with 16 species. The back story here is that again, we ended up at Meva, and again Scorpo was my target. But I failed to land one despite having given myself all the time in the world. If I had landed that Sea Scorpion it would have been a triple draw on 17 species and I would have won the event on species points.
So, with that memory weighing heavily on my mind it was time to right the wrongs. Almost ten years on, I would like to think that I have improved in some ways (ignoring that I’ve become older and weaker in others!) I’ve also watched Dan develop his lure angling skills in that time. Dan is without doubt the very best angler at catching scorpionfish. I could recall dozens of episodes to support this belief. In fact, it was only a couple of weeks ago that we were doing a pilot for our new lure angling podcast and we got onto the subject of Dan’s scorpo prowess. So thankfully, I’d had a bit of a refresh on the method. That conversation was playing on repeat as I started my attack.
The approach was Jighead. 1.5g allowed me to fish vertically down the side of the breakwater and keep just enough control in the breeze. Even small scorpos have gigantic mouths so hook size isn’t so important (but I do think you can be too small for sea scorpions). The first lure I liked the look of was a metallic brown lure by Mars, that looks like a shrimp. I’ve caught lots of fish on it before, so it was a clear confidence bait for me. I picked a spot clear of anglers and began working the edge.
Step one is get your lure to the bottom. You have to navigate over or through the fringe of weed that grows near the top of the low water line. Once on the bottom I was working the bottom foot of water, vertically. Up, down, up, down, up, pause. Move a little to the side and repeat. After what seems like half an hour – although I wouldn’t be surprised if it was longer – I had a slow, sure, bite that I failed to connect with. It’s impossible to explain these things, but I had a very strong feeling that this was the target!
Now this is perhaps where fishing with soft plastics diverges away from the Isome game. I’m incredibly lucky to have a depth of lure fishing experience to lean on, including competition angling where decision making is critical to success. I’ll try and explain my thought process…
At this point I believe I have located the target species. Scorpos don’t generally roam around as they’re ambush predators. So the first thing I do is make very clear in my mind exactly where the fish is, looking for ‘landmarks’ on the quayside so I can retarget the same fish. I feel like I have a chance of retargeting it as I didn’t threaten it. It didn’t feel like it felt the hook point and I didn’t make any wild strike. In my mind’s eye, the fish grabbed the lure and before I could hook it, rejected the lure as a foreign object. Everything resets.
However, if I retarget the fish with the same lure my chances are massively reduced. I’ve effectively just taught the fish that this shiny, brown thing that hovers in front of its face is not edible. So I switch lures. A common practice in freshwater lure tournaments.
Next up I switch over to a tiny 1-inch AquaWave shad. It’s so diminutive and supple that it effectively swims on the spot. My thought here is that a lure of a different colour, size and style gives me the best overall chance of triggering a strike from the same fish.
Dropping back into the same hole and there is a heightened level of excitement. Will it? Up, down, up, down. Up, down, up, down. Tap! I feel the resistance of weed this time. And unfortunately it’s enough to dislodge the fish. Dang it!
I don’t think I have many successes to-date in targeting the same fish third time around. But I have to try again. Maybe there are more than one fish.
Next up I switch back the other way. Super natural and low action. A 1.3-inch AquaWave Ami shrimp in a clear sparkly colour. It doesn’t really have an action. It’s effectively a pin-tail and relies on a detailed profile. Very subtle. Down it goes.
After what feels like 5 minutes of up-and-down-pause, around an area of only a square-foot I feel like my hopes are lost and it is time to move on. My last trick is to hold the the lure vertically, 2 or 3 inches off the bottom. The jighead I chose sits perfectly horizontal. I’m relying entirely on the profile of the lure and just enough ‘life’ to trick my adversary. Who at this point must be having quite a confusing morning!
After what seems like an eternity I register a bite which hooks itself as the fish turns and heads back down to its hole! I gingerly retrieve the fish up through the water column. The no-fight, high-drag resistance have all the hallmarks of a bucket-mouthed scorpo. After a moment of nervousness negotiating the fish through the fringe of weed near the surface, the prize is mine. A beautiful, dark red, Long-spined Sea Scorpion. Get in!!
I ended the the event on 15 species. I’m very happy with that. It’s respectable for me. Especially given the bulk of our fishing marks were dictated by the event stages, which were highly pressured by us all fishing them. It’s only now as I sit here to write this that I realise that I had 9 or my 15 fish on non-flavoured lures. I’m extremely happy with that. I didn’t set out to do this. So it seems that I am at least taking my own medicine!
Dan fished tremendously all weekend and was rewarded handsomely at the presentation. I’m sure he was on stage more than he was sat in his seat with a session win, a group win and a high placing in the final standings. Well done Dan.
So, much like this summer, I have realised that it doesn’t matter too much about the trials and tribulations experienced in the middle bit. Only how well it ends. And like our dismal summer this year, the lasting memory is what counts. A reminder to keep trying and continually to look for the positives.
Thank you CLF! Perhaps one last time? Thank you for the ups and the downs. Thank you for the countless lifetime experiences (this time was watching Blue Fin Tuna hunting garfish off Meva). Thank you for the friends and acquaintances. Thank you for the excuse to spend time with my life-long mates. THANK YOU!