SHEDNOTES 42: TALKING TACKLE AFTER BEING ALL AT SEA

A Shed reporter recently published the following …

by George Edwards
My shed is full of old fishing tackle and I always take some on holiday, to get a hook in some kind of water. But I am only buying long-odds tickets in a lottery.
I have rarely had much idea what I am after, what it eats and where it is likely to be.
I decided retirement was an opportunity to get a bit more scientific and a recent step was a run out of Plymouth with my brother-in-law, whose history in angling is also a little light on actual fish.
Normally, I’m a ten-shilling angler, meaning my priority is to have a go and get back home without losing any kit worth more than 50p. But the prospect of a day at sea with real fishermen persuaded me to drop in on Paul The Fisherman in Tavistock Market.
I have nearly always used fixed-spool reels – the sort where a rotating wire cage lays the line around a spool which only goes back and forth a bit. Most serious sea anglers use a multiplier, which is essentially a basic centre-pin, simple and strong, except geared up a bit for faster winding. Paul let me have one with a small crack in the trim for £20. Sound but slightly cracked is exactly my style and I got carried away and spent another couple of fivers on weights, hooks, swivels, booms and suitable lures (i.e. rubber fish) for cod and pollack.
First job, in my new role as proper hunter-gatherer, was to wind on some new 30-lb breaking-strain line. I ran it through a rubber band on a pole to give it some tension and played the reel from side to side in a rough attempt to even out the winding. But that was not care enough and I ended up with a birds’ nest I had to cut off the reel.
A Google on the subject of loading a multiplier threw up a 15-minute instructional video, which I might watch later – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxkZm5Ni7vY/
Time was running out and I went back to Paul, who said it wasn’t that complicated – you just had to keep tension on the line and use your thumb to lay it. But for another £5, he let me trade in the empty reel for a new one, loaded with probably 15-20 lb line and equipped with a distributor mechanism for laying the line evenly on uptake. You were unlikely to reel in a fish by putting more than 20 lbs of pressure on a hook in its mouth, Paul pointed out. Heavier line mainly gave you a better chance of getting your rig back when hooked on wreck or rock.
At Mountbatten Quay at 7 am on the big day, eight veteran anglers, a couple of junior apprentices and me and my oppo compared notes. Most were using line with a BS of 30-50 lbs and most of that was new-fangled braid – much thinner than the equivalent strength in monofilament, though also more expensive. The serious angler thinks it worth it because he gets strength without weight. A heavy monofilament line gets pulled around a surprising amount by wind and tide. Also, it stretches quite a lot, which means it is hard to feel what is happening when you have dropped a hook on a big weight into 30 fathoms of water. With braid, you still feel the connection. On the other hand, as somebody pointed out, you would need to be Hercules, with a rod 90 foot long, to make an effective strike at that depth, braid or not. However, at least braid lets you know when not to take a rest from reeling in.
It parts easily on a sharp edge, including the jaws of some fish, so you want a “rubbing length”, equivalent to about twice your rod, of 50-lb or 60-lb monofilament at the front end. Finally, braid is so fine it can cut you like a knife. One of our boatmates had a notched stick, we noted, so he could wind braid around it and get a good pull, when he had a jam, without losing fingers.
Having watched a few fishing programmes, I wanted to know why an angler using a multiplier holds his rod upside down, with the line guides and reel on the top. I asked one of my boatmates and he wasn’t sure either. That was just the way it was. But I found out reasons. It is easier to lay your rod on the rail that way. Also, the damned reel needs the eye of a hawk on it at all times. You need to watch for over-run when you are spooling off and you need to watch for tangles when you are reeling in, because overlaying on a tangle will only embed it inextricably. I fell into this trap and was told it was another reason to choose braid, which sits down more tidily.
I am inclined to think that if enlightenment is possible at my age, it will come with the patience required to disentangle fishing line, and I normally don’t mind having a go, but I paid £70 for this trip and after half an hour of unrewarded Zen, it made sense to give up on the new reel and dig out my fixed-spool beachcaster. It got me through but it was awkward to use with my rod held under my arm and close to my body. I should have bought two multipliers – one for a spare in action and one for exchanging line with in the shed, between trips.
My rod collection does include a short and stubby little antique, designed for poking over the side of a dinghy. But I was under the impression, from window-shopping, that big-boat rods had moved on somewhat, so you could cast well away from the noise of the boat. I settled for an old beach-caster, nowadays looking short at eight foot or so, and reinforced over the years with Araldite, whipping and gaffer tape. Almost everybody else had a shorter one, which makes sense when you are pulling it inboard, into a crowded space.
We needed to get at our rod ends quite a lot. First, we stopped a couple of times to pick up mackerel for bait, which meant tying on feathers. Then we were advised to “pollack rig”, meaning off with the feathers and on with a right-angled boom, with a weight on it, leading out sideways to about eight foot of line with hook and lure on the end.
On the way to the target area, we were surrounded by dolphins, giving us the full act, bar twirling a beach ball, and I meditated briefly on the ethics of hauling their cousins out of the water on a hook. But I did not think I had the right audience for the agonies of my inner journeys and anyway I wanted a big fish before I saw the light.
There was no casting required. The trip was designed to get you to a good wreck, shut down the engines and drift over it, so your lure had some horizontal movement. On the day, the skipper was grumbling about a combination of wind and tide which kept the boat more or less static, so we were effectively dunking for fish. On advice from the mate, I took off my lure at one spot and tried my luck on the bottom with just strips of mackerel. I picked up a nice fat pouting, which interested nobody, and a good-size ling, a cod relative, probably 15-20 lbs, and a good meaty fish. I forgot all about dolphins and stood proudly by as it was gaffed and bashed and cut with my mark.
After that, I tried an eel-shaped lure, with a bit of mackerel attached, in the hope of overcoming that moment when any half-intelligent fish discovers it has been chasing a bit of rubber. But even I could see it was probably not convincing on a vertical pull. Some of the lads switched to mock cuttlefish, with bait hanging underneath, which looked better for the circumstances, and they pulled some good pollack and ling. But a couple of the biggest were caught by a simple imitation shad in violent pink, with no bait included. One of the lessons of the trip was the need to be prepared for a lot of switching of rigs, to find the right combination for the day … or maybe just simply to change your luck.
I was short of a brad for poking holes in my spare lures; I was short of swivels, after me and my bro both lost a couple to line breaks; I was short of ideas; and I was eventually quite exhausted, from the simple labour of reeling a 12-ounce weight from 200 feet down. You need weights that size, or bigger sometimes, to get you to the bottom. You can feel them getting lighter as they fall into the density of the depths.
I didn’t get another bite. But I was happy as a hornpipe. I was at sea, 30 miles due south of Plymouth, with the land a smudge on the horizon, and I wasn’t the poor blighter who started being sick with 10 hours to go. I had a fish to take home. And I had learned a few things.
One of them was – Don’t take waterproofs; wear waterproofs. Even if it doesn’t rain, there will be enough spray to soak you. And you do not want to get changed on a boat making 18 knots in a chop.
Another little tip – Take a bucket, or wear a bag, to take your rubbish – scraps of line, sandwich wrappers, discarded hooks and lures and rags (and reels). For tackle, the world is divided between bag and box. It will end up being a black hole of chaos whichever, but a rubbish bin of some sort helps a little.
* George Edwards booked his trip through plymouthcharter.co.uk/

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