On Tuesday morning I went over to Plymouth after dropping my girls off at school as I needed to get a new pair of hiking boots, and since I was there I thought it would be cool to drop into the Art of Fishing tackle shop down on the Barbican where my mate works. The following is a story about lust, addiction, human weakness, voices in my head, and what I swear was a packet of soft plastics winking at me. Honestly, it ain’t remotely right…………..
I know the shop that well by now and I have developed a pretty good strategy for getting in and out of there without too much harm being done to my wallet. I say hello to my friend Mark while at the same time doing my best not to look at the wall immediately opposite the door as you walk in. Nope, I categorically do now want to see if there are any new Nabarones, X140s, Gatarides or Sasukes in the hard lures area. Stay safe, avert the eyes, yap with Mark about something fishing related and move on down to the end of the shop to have a look at the lure rods.
I feel pretty safe down there. Sure, I like having a waggle with anything new that might have arrived (Mark did show me a rather nice Yamaga Early around 9’2’’ I think it was), but as much as I have a bit of a problem with fishing rods I’m kind of ok looking at them because I bought a new one recently. How many fishing rods does an angler actually need ? OK, don’t go there.
I’m fine on my way down to the lure rods as well, because on the left as you head over there is all the LRF gear, and as much as it interests me looking at all the different stuff, I don’t do this kind of fishing and I am in no danger of falling for the gear. Safe as houses, mentally very tough, feeling pretty good in fact. I’ve had a look at the rods, and all I need to do now is do an about turn and head back to the counter for a bit of a yap with the anglers crowded around there.
“Henry” I hear whispered on the air. I look to the counter but can’t see any of them turned towards me. Who said that then ? “Henry, over here”. As gentle as a dandelion releasing its seeds into a summer breeze I hear a little voice imploring me to turn around and look at the racks of soft plastics. No, no, don’t do it I say to myself. You don’t need any more soft lures for the time being, you’ve got enough to be catching bass for the next hundred years. “Henry, over here, I’m new”……………..
I do an about turn from the rod racks and try not to look left. Where is that voice coming from ? Not in my head, surely ? But as I take that first step from the rod racks towards the counter and relative safety I see something out of my left eye. What on earth was that ? Did that packet of soft plastics really wink at me ? I quickly check the guys around the counter to see if anybody is looking at me like I’m on drugs, but nope, they are engrossed in stories of monster fish no doubt. It’s just me, the end of the shop, and a wall racked out with soft plastics – where I am pretty sure a packet of them winked at me. Subtly, I will give the packet that, but winked it did.
I can’t help it. I turn left. My eyes come to rest upon the guilty packet. Wink at me again and I’ll take you outside for a damn good thrashing. Hang on, I haven’t seen those lures before. They look nice. Nice and subtle but shiny at the same time. What I have been obsessing about recently ? Ah, that’s right, soft plastic jerkbaits, and here’s something called a Fish Arrow 5’’ Flash-J that is new to me. Looks rather nice does it not ? No, don’t stop winking at me because I think I might need you. I don’t really need you though. I’m strong.
As if on autopilot my right hand goes up to the packet. A little bit of me thinks about hurling the offending winker to the floor and jumping up and down on it, but I don’t. I place it gently in my hand and then my eyes go back to the shelf to look for a different colour. Why ? Well I can’t just go for the one colour can I ? Gotta get a couple of different ones. Gotta feed the addiction. Do I need any more soft plastic jerkbaits ? Do bears whip their trousers down and drop it in the woods ?
To the counter I head, clutching two packets of soft plastics in my hand like they’re contaminated with Ebola. I put them down on the counter and start yapping to a few of the lads in the shop. Ah, being clever are we now Henry ? Put them on the counter, forget all about them and then leave the shop with your wallet intact ? Like it my son. Good tactics. Underhand but very, very sensible. Getting one over on my brain.
A while later and I turn to leave but I hear a clunk. My wallet has somehow come out of my pocket without me knowing, landed on the counter and handed over a £20 note to Mark. The next thing I see is Mark handing me my change. What the hell happened ? In my hand are a couple of packets of lures that I didn’t really mean to buy. I was that close to getting out of there without taking a hit and I failed.
But what is almost worse than my complete lack of inner strength and moral fibre is that by the time I had arrived back in Cornwall on the Torpoint ferry I had convinced myself that all along I had actually been heading into Plymouth to buy some of these Fish Arrow lures, and that needing a new pair of hiking boots was merely coincidental to me wandering into the Art of Fishing. Weakness in the face of adversity or intelligent mental agility ? If only the swine packet of lures had not gone and winked at me……………(oh, and these lures do look rather stunning in the water, plus they cast like little bullets).
If you didn’t know, from 15th May to 15th June there is a close season for bass in Ireland which I believe means you are not meant to go deliberately fishing for them, and if you do catch bass by mistake then they must all be returned – bearing in mind of course that outside of the ban there is a two bass per day limit anyway. You know by now that I am right behind anything that can help the fish stocks recover in any way, big or small, but I can’t help but wonder about this month long close season…………….
The origins of this close season on the Irish bass was I believe to try and better protect spawning fish, and as any sane human being knows full well, the only way to really make a big difference to fish stocks anywhere on this earth is to leave them the hell alone when they are breeding – which is about as likely as any politician anywhere on this earth actually giving a direct answer to a direct question. Please accept that I am in no way any kind of expert on the times of bass spawning, but enough people communicate to me that they see little correlation between the timings of the bass close season and when the fish actually spawn that I can’t help but wonder if in fact the Irish close season is doing the good it’s meant to do.
I am categorically not trying to raise any hackles, but I do wonder if there might be a different way of doing things to help look after the Irish bass. All well and good you might well say considering I don’t live in Ireland and I am merely a regular visitor, but I can’t help but admire the country for at least putting various measures in place that seem to be doing some level of good as regards protecting inshore fish stocks. Nope, nowhere is perfect, but I can only comment on the average size of Irish bass I see compared to the average size of bass I see around here, and there is no comparison.
A part of me can’t help thinking about how essentially banning numerous anglers from fishing certain parts of the coastline for a month might actually play into the hands of the more unscrupulous people who might partake in a bit of illegal netting etc. I know how much “self-policing” a lot of the Irish bass anglers do around their magical coastline, because for however much good stuff the bailiffs can do, budgets are budgets and they are never going to be able to successfully patrol a whole coastline.
More switched-on and conservation minded anglers out and about on the coastline can only be a good thing if you ask me, and whilst I accept that my view might be somewhat simplistic, surely a bit of decent self-policing at a time when there can be a serious amount of bass around is a good thing. Leaving parts of the coastline alone for a month ? I just don’t know, or is this simply a wrong way of looking at this ?
From a purely economic point of view I can’t help but feel for people and businesses over in Ireland who rely on bass anglers for whatever percentages of their income. During a more normal year you would expect the bass fishing in parts of Ireland to have been pumping for a while now, but with this late start things are only really getting going relatively recently. Down come the hatches though and it’s no more bass fishing for a month from today. A potentially prime time for various businesses to earn income and the bass related part of it is stopped dead in its tracks.
But yes, I am completely behind something that might help protect the bass stocks, and yes, of course, I wish with all my heart that something meaningful would be done here in the UK. As regards Ireland I personally think that a no-take season might be worth thinking about – how about say all bass caught from 1st Feb to the end of May to be returned (please, I am merely plucking dates out of the ether here), with all non-bait fishing hooks to be fully barbless ? And then outside of these times there could be a slot-size for the two fish allowed per angler per day. Who needs to kill a double figure bass to eat ? How about a slot size that looks for a bass around say 2.5lbs to 4lbs which is a pretty decent eating size. Plus as a visiting angler I should be charged a saltwater fishing license that of course is going to the right causes.
Again though, easy for me to say as I can simply sit here and write about it, and it’s nothing but a bit of thinking aloud by me. But it interests me, and of course as a visiting angler I can’t help but hope with all my heart that Ireland continues to do what it’s doing as regards bass stocks, and yes, of course, with all my heart as well I wish something was being done in the UK. But it isn’t and that’s why I go to Ireland as much as I can.
If I lived in Ireland though, would I respect the bass close season and not fish for them for the next month ? Well I want to say yes of course I would because I am a decent law-abiding citizen, but in reality ? As a visitor and a fishing journalist I don’t visit Ireland during the close season, but if I lived there ? Crumbs it would be hard not to head out when the coast is fizzing and you just know that the conditions are perfect. I don’t take bass to eat and all my lure hooks, both singles and trebles, are all de-barbed, but would it be right to head out fishing during a close season ? No, obviously not, but I have to ask once more how much relevancy this close season actually has to the bass and their spawning activities ? And yes, I very much stand to be corrected……………….
Is it only me who has an obsession with islands, based around fishing of course ? I suppose a big thing about me spending entirely too much time almost fantasising about visiting and fishing on all manner of different islands has to have something to do with a part of fishing being so wrapped up with getting away from it all (not that I actually have anything I want to escape from) and fishing different spots where you can’t help but feel that you might be amongst the few to have wet a line there. I just love the idea of putting a line out into waters that feel far, far away from the well-trodden paths, and I also love the simple idea of islands being exactly what they are – land surrounded by water that means getting there is rarely as simple as getting somewhere else……………
A very good friend of mine lives in the Isles of Scilly, one of the most magical places that I have ever been fortunate enough to visit on this awesome planet. I think that Del knows how special the islands are, but then he calls the place home and to him such beauty and a degree of isolation must feel as normal as me living where I do and calling it home. As a fairly regular visitor to the Isles of Scilly, I cannot tell you how excited I get at leaving the mainland and heading offshore to what almost feels like another world – and a world that is crawling with fish that almost nobody fishes for. I also have a serious thing for the Channel Islands.
I think that the lovely Mary Gavin-Hughes thought I was a bit loopy when I kept asking her questions about her childhood on one of the many islands in Clew Bay on the west coast of Ireland, but I was genuinely fascinated in what she was telling me. Just the idea of her dad rowing his kids to school each morning I suppose connects with the fact that within many of us remains the desire not to herd together and live on top of each other.
Have any of you been watching the excellent Ben Fogle Channel 5 series “New Lives in the Wild”, where he goes and spends a week or so with various people or families who have chosen to live their lives far, miles away from the madding crowds ? (I have not seen much Ben Fogle stuff, but I think he’s a fantastic TV presenter, you can see some of these programmes here). Tell me it doesn’t connect with you in some way. I have got a serious thing for the film “Into the Wild” as well – in some way it “clicks” something inside of me.
I recall when we made a TV programme over on the tiny Dursey Island right at the end of the jaw-dropping Beara peninsular over in Ireland – dodgy cable car aside, just the fact that the island is separated from the mainland by a thin strip of Atlantic Ocean was enough to induce such a high state of excitement in me that I distinctly remember having to try and dial myself back a bit in case somebody wrote in to complain that the presenter (me) was on drugs because he was too hyper. I don’t remember landing any particularly big fish, but to me it’s way, way beyond that. I just seriously dig the fact that because islands are often that bit more tricky to get to beyond jumping in a car, in my head it means that I am almost on the edge of the earth that bit more than on the mainland.
I have been lucky enough to have visited various islands and atolls through work. Bazaruto, Benguerra, Astove, Cosmoledo, Farquhar, Providence, Sekoma, Rost, a couple of bear-infested ones in BC, even Martha’s Vineyard etc. There are countless more I would kill to go and see, but I’ll tell you what my out and out strongest fantasy is, and it’s nothing to with anything weird or even 10lb plus bass busting all around me and eating their way up my line (which would in itself seem weird to a non-angler). Nope, it’s far more simple than that, and yes, it revolves around Ireland.
For years now I have fantasised about wandering around Ireland in a camper van with a bit of fishing gear and visiting all those romantic sounding islands that I see on maps and hear snippets about from time to time. Give me a bunch of pollack, wrasse, mackerel, mullet and perhaps the odd bass on a lure rod or two and I reckon I would be about as happy as you like if I could just wander around with a few OS maps (sod the smartphones), fishing gear, and of course my cameras. What on earth could be more exciting than not knowing much about where you were going other than it is going to be surrounded by a deep blue Atlantic Ocean, not many people, and most likely rocks, beaches and bays that are hardly ever seeing other anglers.
Look at a map of Ireland and tell me that islands such as Inishmore, Inishman, Inisheer (The Aran islands), Inishbofin, Inishturk, Sherkin, Cape Clear, Clare and Achill don’t speed up that beating heart of yours. Tell me that you don’t ache to wander their shorelines and fish their cold, clear waters ? I can’t help but obsess about such places and I also know that such obsessive mental pictures can sometimes mean that the reality risks being a let-down, but I am going to make it my mission to visit some of these places and lose myself for a brief time in the timeless thrill of being on an island……………….