5 July 2018
Light NW backing SW
LW 04.30 – 1.37m
HW 10.30 – 4.29m
Earlier in the year I upgraded my fishing boat from a 14ft Orkney 440 to a 16ft Orkney 520, the hope being that the larger vessel and engine would allow me the opportunity to venture further offshore in search of fish. Previously I had done most of my anchor fishing in around 50-80ft of water, today I was being slightly more ambitious. With the neap tides upon us I had been scouring the online sites and forums for wreck information within a 10 mile radius of Falmouth – where I would be launching. There are literally hundreds. It is incredible what information you can glean from online sources now. Not only current position of a wreck, but often the history and size of the vessel that went down and some wrecks even have dive videos on YouTube, incredible. I had chosen a likely target, the logic I used was a wreck far enough from port that it wouldn’t be fished often by pleasure fishermen and in rocky enough terrain that it would hopefully be overlooked by commercial fishermen in 170-180ft of water. This would be a day of learning !
We launched just as dawn was breaking, a gentle NW wind was forecast to drop off around midday and then back off SW in the afternoon. A gentle steam had me at the chosen area of ground just 2 hours into the flood. My first order of business was to mark the wreck on the GPS and sounder, running a rough grid to gauge how large and spread out the wreck was before killing the engine to work out in what direction the drift would run. Now to try and feather up some bait. I had brought a small amount of squid and octopus just in case but the plan was to catch what I needed there and then. Down went a set of mackerel feathers baited with little strips of Squid the target was Whiting and Pouting. The slow drift proved perfect quickly racking up several double shots of prime pouting, a couple of whiting, a single mackerel and a real brute of a Cuckoo Wrasse. A stunning male specimen weighing in at 1lb 4oz. Plenty of Pouting and Whiting on a wreck is a really good sign. These are the staple food source of fish like Ling and Conger.
After I had filled a bucket I made my way up-tide and dropped anchor. In 175ft of water I ran roughly 20ft of chain and 300ft of rope. I waited anxiously for the boat to settle, this would tell if I had gauged the wind and tide right for the boat to be sitting just up-tide of the wreck or if I would have to pull 320ft of rope by hand and re-anchor. It wasn’t a bullseye but as she settled I was just at the edge of the wreck. It would do until the tide changed.
My setups were Shakespeare Ugly Stick 20/30 and 30/50 GX-2’s coupled with SL30SH and TLD20. As I was slightly up-tide of the wreck with the tide flowing I would be using a standard running ledger rig with 8 to 12oz of lead on a Cox & Rawle Zip Slider running up my leader to a #5 Coastlock swivel. Then a 3ft Leader of 200lb Rovex 10X to a Cox & Rawle SCR25 10/0 Meat Hook. These hooks are great for this type of fishing. They have a good gape for holding a bait, I have never seen or even heard of them bending out and they hold a point brilliantly. Not only vital for a good hook-up but also when using tough baits it’s safer for the angler. I like to either put a muppet or strip of lumi tube on my hook length, not only for added attraction but also added abrasion resistance against sharp rasping teeth. A lot has to be said about baits for congers. But in my opinion the saying “Big baits catch big fish” . . . is very true. I was using Pouting and Whiting heads. What better bait than what was already present on the wreck?
The first baits made their way to the bottom – it is important to lower the baits slowly, to not only prevent tangles but to ensure the slider does not travel up the leader and remains down at the trace.
I didn’t have to wait long before the first enquiry. There are several types of bites I have found from Conger, ranging from tiny little nibbling plucks where they mouth the bait, all the way to rod-buckling takes. Unless the rod is being wrenched from your hands my advice would be to let the bite develop, especially when using large baits. Check your drag, it needs to be tight. Get into a good body position. Make sure you have everything out of the way or in place for landing the fish because you could be in for a fight. Then set the hook HARD!!!! This part of the fight is crucial. You must be tough and get that fish away from the wreck, if you let it take line it will find a snag 99% of the time, then once it is in open water you can take your time.
I had a quick flurry of fish within the first hour ranging from around 10-20lb, one of them with the lighter rod managed to find itself a snag and locked me up with the wreck. In a situation like this you have 2 choices. You can either try to pull the fish out with constant and heavy pressure, which usually results in a snap off. Or ease off and give the fish a little slack line. The hope is that the fish will swim itself out of the snag. This does occasionally happen. I had opted for the second option. I stood there rod-in-hand waiting for the faintest indication the Eel was out of its hole. Slowly the line began to tighten again. I wound down fast and gave some heavy pressure dragging the fish up out of the wreckage and into open water. My ploy had worked and another nice Eel was landed.
As the tide reached slack water I let out a little more rope and moored myself directly on top of the wreck. For this type of fishing I like to use my “wrecking rig” it is basically a 2-Hook Flapper on steroids. 200lb mono with 2 blood loops ending in 2 x SCR25 10/0 Meat Hooks. On one hook I used a bunch of Octopus tentacles and the other a Pouting fillet. This is “rod-in-hand fishing” as you really are inside the rough stuff. As soon as you have a bite you need to be striking and reeling. One more Eel was taken on the bottom hook of my wrecking rig before the wind changed and I was off the wreck.
I measure and record the length, girth and weight of as many of my Eels as possible and submit to the British Conger Club. This information is vital for research and is not only used to monitor fish stocks but also to create a comprehensive length to weight conversion chart like that used for Sharks and Skate.
An hour or so later as the tide began to ebb I re-anchored and fished the opposite side of the wreck, I lost one very large Eel to the wreckage as it dived twice from mid-water back to the bottom before boating a brute of an Eel that I estimate to be around the 45-50lb bracket. Great fun single handed. The wind began to veer to the SW so I swung off the wreck and lost 2 sets of gear to some unseen obstruction. An occupational hazard of wreck fishing and was forced to re-anchor again. As a rule I always use a strong coast lock swivel joining my leader to my trace. Unfortunately, and I say this with fresh pain as I couldn’t find enough in my tackle box so on 1 rod went for the standard American Interlock Snaps I use on lighter stuff - Mackerel feathers etc. Obviously this was the rod I hooked into the next big fish with. Heavy fight ensued with me getting the fish well up into the water until as the fish made its second dive for the wreck. Fearing the same as earlier I gave added pressure and “Pop” fish gone. To say I was gutted in an understatement - if there was ever proof needed as to why to use proper high-spec swivels then this was it. I know for certain if that had been my usual Cox & Rawle #5 Coast Lock this would not have happened!!! After this low blow the wind, as if to rub salt in the wound began increasing and swinging the boat wind against tide quite badly - time to call it a day. Some great fishing on a new wreck and definitely some lessons learned – even if it was for the second time. As I have said before, “You often can learn more from losing a good fish than you can from catching one.”