Welcome to my new website by Henry Gilbey

I am rather hoping that you arrived at this blog just as easily as you would have got here yesterday - welcome to my new website. Changing websites and therefore the blog is not a decision I undertook lightly, and as much as I was very happy with my old design, for a while now I have wanted to change things up and have a crack at putting a website together myself. Check this blog post here to see where I was thinking of going with the new site (heavily influenced by the old site), but when I was away in the Seychelles I got to be away from the internet completely and I could have a think about how I wanted things to look - and this is the result………..

When I say build my own website, I don’t mean coding it or stuff like that. Nope, that line of attack is way beyond me. A while back I had a play with a few of these website building things that you can find online, and the one that jumped out at me the most by far was Squarespace. From a business point of view I need a website to help show my photos off, and then of course there is this blog which I am rather passionate about continuing with. Getting the blog across from the old website has not been remotely easy, but thanks to some some very kind technical wizardry from a very kind person the blog is here (thank you, thank you kind person, and I promise not to gaffer tape your tongue to an electric fence over in Ireland when we are fishing there next - it worked!!).

Viewing and commenting on this blog should still be very straightforward, albeit I have now set it so that comments need to be “approved” by me before they appear underneath each blog post. Your interaction with this blog is absolutely fantastic and very much appreciated, indeed if nobody was interacting with it then there wouldn’t be that much point in continuing with it, and please, please, I want your thoughts and opinions. I don’t remotely expect you to agree with me and I am all for a decent bit of good natured back and forth etc., but that’s just it - it has to stay good natured. I can’t have the kind of garbage that was spouted on a specific blog post the other day. Please disagree with me by all means, but do it politely and with some degree of logic and reasoned argument. And for those people who despise what I do and hate me without ever having actually met me, I am saving your hands from uncontrollably typing any more abuse from behind your lovely warm keyboard.

Please do notify me if you see any mistakes on this new website, because there will be some. The blog has been hosted via a couple of formats during it’s life and as such there will be various broken links and some missing photos if you go right back, but for the most part I hope that it still works pretty much as the old one did. Some of the categories are a bit messed up as a result of importing the blog into this new website, so if you want to find something specific somewhere in the blog I would suggest that you use the rather excellent search box to the top right of this post. Categories will start to work properly as this blog starts running on this new website. And my apologies - there have been some comments lost on the more recent blog posts. This is to do with the timings of the blog import and when certain posts were created, but all should work pretty seamlessly from now on, or at least I rather hope so!! Sorry.

The Fishing Tackle section is something that I considered dropping altogether, but the feedback I have received recently convinced me that it should stay, and I will do my best to keep it updated. Any specific items of gear in there that has been reviewed here on the blog should link back to the specific post (but remember that Search box as well), but it’s always going to be the case that some of what I have written in the Fishing Tackle section is fairly old and kind of outdated - I am learning about fishing all the time after all. I can’t keep trawling through the section and changing things all the time, so please bear with me and work with how this part of the website is. My hope is that the Fishing Tackle section serves as a simple resource that helps some of you out with narrowing down your decisions on fishing gear that you might want to buy.

Because of the way this particular website template works within Squarespace, there are a couple of ways of accessing the Fishing Pictures, Fishing Tackle and Help & Info sections. Hover over the navigation bar at the top and a drop down menu will appear below these sections (click on what you want to see), or else you can simply click on the page headings and you will notice that a full page photo now appears with the name of the page at the bottom left. Scroll through these photos via the navigation arrows and then click on this full page photo or the page name at the bottom left to get there - whether that be say Bass Fishing or Saltwater Fly Fishing from the Fishing Pictures index, various rods, reels and lures from the Fishing Tackle section, or that leader knot from the Help & Info section. Land on a specific Fishing Pictures page and it should be pretty self-explanatory how to scroll through the thumbnails and click on the + sign in the top right to get a larger preview.

I have put a Guiding page up on this new website as it’s now a part of what I do and I want to tell visitors to the site about it. This new website is “responsive” and it should work well on mobiles and tablets. I don’t personally look at websites on my iPhone, but I accept that a lot of people do and the website needs to work like this. I work on a 27’ calibrated monitor here and I have gone for this particular website look because I feel that it helps to show off my photography, but I would hazard a guess that a lot of you come here purely to look at the blog and nothing else. I want this new website to work for all visitors, so please do tell me what you think and if something is just not working properly. Many people don’t like change, but things move onwards and upwards and I felt that the website was due a change. Welcome to my new website and my thanks for taking a look around.

Recreational fishing "accounts for 25% of sea bass mortality" - really? by Henry Gilbey

If it has escaped your attention, and with the lack of publicity it quite possibly has, then from midnight last night I believe that via the European Commission it has become law that we recreational saltwater anglers in certain areas of Europe are now restricted to killing three (sea) bass a day. Thanks to World Sea Fishing for making the news more widely known about (check here), but quite aside from what I can’t help but believe is a fairly meaningless new regulation, what I personally find of most interest here is that we recreational sea anglers are being held responsible for “25% of sea bass mortality”. Really? I am sure there have been endless very expensive scientific studies into this, but I find it very hard to believe that we can possible be responsible for that many bass being killed………

I am all for (enforceable) restrictions on what recreational anglers can take from the sea, indeed it has never made much sense to me that in theory we can kill all legally sized fish that we catch. But how can a rule like this that has just come into force possibly mean a damn thing when there is nobody or nothing there to enforce it? Sure, you’d love to think that every sea angler now covered by these new restrictions has firstly actually heard of them, and secondly that they are all now going to adhere to the new rules and the unscrupulous among us aren’t now going to kill all the bass they catch and sell them for example. No more black market bass selling I hear the cries go up, because it’s now illegal. Yeah, right. Where is the enforcement?

I can’t help but admire the fact that the European Commission has actually been doing something towards protecting fragile bass stocks, and “intend” to do more - see here. A big reason for this I reckon has come via anglers and various angling bodies putting continued pressure on the powers that be. Do not stop. I have no problem with being restricted to three bass a day, indeed in reality I can’t see why it isn’t one bass a day, and with the size of that bass having to be within a certain slot size that takes account of logic - why for example would anybody need to take a double figure bass for eating? But how on earth is this new rule going to mean a damn thing without anybody out there to enforce it? Are we now trusting in the goodness of the human spirit? Call me cynical, but the word balls comes to mind.

But still I worry where this 25% figure comes from. If we as recreational sea anglers are being credited with killing this percentage of bass within the overall amount removed from the sea each year then I wonder what else we might have coming in the future - or to look at it another way, how much less the commercial sector might be regulated because the argument can be hang on, but the recreational guys and girls are actually responsible for a huge percentage of fish mortality. I can’t remotely base my lack of belief in the 25% figure on any kind of hard facts, rather it’s my own incredulity at how recreational anglers and the methods we use could possibly be responsible for catching and killing that many bass. It just doesn’t add up to me. Or am I completely wrong and in fact we are?

So next time you’re out bass fishing and it’s an epic session and you think hang on, I could take all these fish and feed my family/friends/pets or indeed sell them to a few restaurants via the back door and make a bit of dosh to cover my recreational fishing expenses (absolutely despicable if you ask me), well from now you’re breaking the law if I am reading the info correctly. And I bet you are quaking in your boots because there might now be a really scary fisheries protection officer patrolling your bit of coastline, the car parks and/or ports you might have set out fishing from, and even the more unscrupulous restaurants where the more unscrupulous anglers might be tempted to offload their catch for the greater good. As if. We don't pay for our fishing remember.

Look, I am all for the fact that bass protection is high on various agendas, and I also believe that we as recreational sea anglers can’t expect to have it all our own way. There has to be a degree of give and take, and whilst we are not scooping up scary numbers of fish via increasingly high-tech commercial fishing methods or raping our inshore waters via what seems to me to be an out of control level of inshore netting, we do stick hooks in fish for our enjoyment and there are some amongst us who kill everything they catch for whatever reasons. This is not a question of good versus bad, but I just don’t see how this new three bass per angler rule is going to make a blind bit of difference with no enforcement - and come on, be honest now, how often do you go out and catch three bass over the legal size limit anyway? And how often does that legal size limit make some anglers stop and think anyway? Bass are on the political agenda and we must be thankful for that, but Rome wasn't built in a day............

They couldn’t believe that we might stick nine barbed hooks in a fish we want to protect by Henry Gilbey

Being out on the water fishing and photographing is what trips away are all about for me, but I also really enjoy it when the day is done (after my photos have been downloaded, edited and keyworded) and you all sit around drinking, eating and yapping away under the stars. A bunch of anglers will of course spend the majority of the time talking about all things fishing, and out in the Seychelles at some point the talk turned to the fish I might fish for back home in the UK. Now as much as sight fishing to GTs, bonefish, permit, triggerfish etc. in the Seychelles is in my mind some of the best fishing to be found anywhere on earth, I can’t afford to do it myself and I’ll put bass fishing with lures in a beautiful place as something pretty damn special as well. Bear in mind that a trip like I have just done to the almost ridiculously remote Astove atoll is I believe around $15,000 per person, excluding international flights (six days fishing). It’s a serious amount of wedge, but when I see the sheer logistics involved with running a professional operation in a location such as this, the numbers do actually make a lot of sense. There is no lure fishing allowed and it’s a single barbless hook deal - add on international flights to that trip price and you’re talking about a lot of money to catch fish like I got to see and photograph, yet not on one single occasion did I ever hear even a murmur of complaint or dissent that every hook was debarbed. One could I suppose add up the fish an individual angler caught during the six days and say that in some respects there’s a lot of dosh riding on that hook not coming out.

Which they don’t - if that is you fight your fishing properly, and as regards a GT, you simply ain’t going to ever land the thing unless you pull seven bells of manure out of it. OK, so we don’t have that “problem” with bass, but talk to the incredibly professional and very experienced guides on the trip I was on and they all say the same thing - barbless hooks don’t come out of fish’s mouths if the angler pulls properly, and yet again I come back to the simple fact that perhaps 99% of UK and Irish lure anglers could pull twice as hard on a bass as they already do and still be nowhere even remotely close to breaking rods and lines on fish. Any hook whether barbed or barbless can come out if a fish thrashes around, shakes its head hard etc., but the fact is that a properly tight line negates the need to use barbs for lure and fly fishing. And it has to be better for fish that we intend to release.

I like to think that I can talk about bass fishing with a certain degree of passion, but when I told the guys around the table one night that it is perfectly possible to use a lure with three sets of trebles and therefore in theory stick nine barbed hooks into and all over a bass, they simply couldn’t believe that anglers who love and respect their quarry could contemplate fishing like this. Astove atoll bears no correlation to where you or I might do the bulk of our fishing, I accept that, but at the end of the day for me it comes down to the respect we should have for our quarry and trying to do the right thing as responsible sport anglers. You can’t tell me that ripping barbed hooks out of fish isn’t doing them a lot of harm, and especially treble hooks.

Go on, trot out the age old argument that what’s the point of trying to do the right thing when the commercial sector takes many more bass than we could ever hope to. I have heard that one a million times and it’s never going to wash with me. If every angler had that attitude then where on earth would we be? How about if every sport angler started off by using only barbless hooks for their lure and fly fishing and in my mind therefore doing a lot less damage to a fish when you take the hook or indeed hooks out? (or barbless single plugging hooks, removing the middle treble etc.) Don’t say it wouldn’t make a difference because that doesn’t wash with me either. There might be no commercial fishing in a place like Astove atoll, but that doesn’t mean that from day one of running a sport fishing operation out there that the people involved aren’t working to look after the fish and the location.

With all that I read and hear from anglers complaining about there being less bass around, more lure anglers on “their marks”, the commercials catching too many fish offshore, rampant inshore netting, using/not using a fish grip, lifting fish out of the water to take photographs, taking the odd fish to eat or releasing everything, the fact that not all returned fish are going to survive etc., personally I think that more anglers should be looking at themselves and thinking about the respect they afford their quarry before they do the typical bury the heads in the sand and blame everybody else instead. Lots of small gestures surely add up to something significant?

It also doesn’t wash with me that you can’t use barbless hooks because of some specific set of circumstances with your lure fishing. A steaming pile of horse manure to that as well. GTs fight very differently to bonefish which in turn fight very differently to say triggerfish, and bearing in mind that I am watching and photographing on a trip like I did to the Seychelles (and not fishing, can’t quite afford the price), I am just not seeing barbless hooks fall out of some very hard fighting fish. The ease with which one can slip a barbless hook out of a fish compared to ripping barbed hooks out in my mind makes it a no-brainer if you purport to cherish your quarry and are intent on doing what you can to make even a tiny bit of difference. I’ll talk our fishing up until the cows come home, I think it really is that special, but for the life of me I will never understand certain ways of doing things. Each to their own of course, but I don’t get how sticking nine barbed hooks into a fish we love and then having to rip them out gives us much of a leg to stand on. Small gestures maybe, but from acorns grow some pretty big trees………

It’s an outrageous privilege to spend time in such a pristine, unspoilt environment by Henry Gilbey

The fact that I get to call this trip work is way beyond where I imagined that working in fishing might sometimes take me, and as I drove back to Cornwall from Heathrow yesterday afternoon, I started to almost mentally pick apart the last couple of weeks and file the experience in my head. To spend that time in such a pristine and unspoilt environment is on the one hand an incredible experience and privilege that will stay with me forever, but on the flipside it’s also like a mental snapshot of how things can be when we aren’t around in numbers to mess things up……….

 

This was my fifth trip to the Seychelles to shoot fishing photos, and this time around we got pretty unlucky with the weather. We had everything from massive blue sky days when the sun beats down relentlessly (perfect), to the heaviest rain I have ever seen, with thunder and lightning in between - plus a wind that for most of the week was on the pretty damn fresh side. Sight fishing of course is based around seeing fish, and whilst there are a lot of fish on Astove, you need decent light to be able to see them - overcast skies make life very hard, but overall we got enough good weather for the clients to smash a heap of fish, and also for me to get what I needed.

 

I don’t really see how anything in fishing is ever going to get madder than seeing an angry GT chasing a fly down in crystal clear water. We have what we have here in the UK and we love it, but we have nothing even remotely close to giant trevally coming at you with their backs out of the water at such a ridiculous speed it leaves me utterly in awe every single time I see it. At times it’s almost scary how aggressively these insane fish come at your fly, and as much as the world’s largest GTs are generally taken via popping and jigging techniques, to me I can’t help but love how somewhere like Astove offers the angler the opportunity to sight fish to them. That’s where GT fishing is at for me.

Photo courtesy Alphonse Fishing Company

 

The biggest GT of the week was landed on the first morning, a 124cm forklength fish as you can see above - we spilt up into groups each day and I did not get to see this particular GT (good guiding Jako, his guys landed eight 1m plus GTs on that day), but on one of the days I did witness the largest GT I have ever seen hooked in the Seychelles smash into a fly so hard and so fast it was downright freaky, and this thing was not stopping. The angler’s drag was done up as tight as it would go yet this fish just kept on motoring out to sea at a horrible speed until the braided loop broke open. When you see a good angler standing there and holding on for dear life to a 12-weight fly rod that has completely flattened out and there isn’t a damn thing he can do about it, that there is some serious stuff in my book. We all saw the fish, and without any shadow of a doubt it was over 100lbs. It might be fly fishing, but the gentle art it ain’t.

 

If you know a bit about saltwater fly fishing, you will know that permit are one of the holy grails, and I saw a double hookup of Indo-Pacific permit one afternoon with both fish landed - the light wasn’t great, but that aside I must imagine this is a pretty rare occurrence. Two very happy anglers and a seriously over the moon guide!! There are almost a silly number of bonefish in the lagoon at Astove, with some seriously big bones moving around the surf zone on the outside as the tide strips away and they feel safe moving into the shallow water to feed - and yes, there are a lot of sharks out there, and yes, I had a couple come at me properly. You have to stand there, let them come pretty close, and then stamp your feet and hope they turn away. Fear and excitement in equal measures, and I love it.

 

All the incredible fishing and numbers of fish aside though, Astove feels like a place that time forgot. You see hawksbill and green turtles  almost everywhere you look, and sometimes you get really close to them before they see you and scarper. Astove is a very important nesting site for these turtles, indeed one morning guys were picking up baby turtles that had got confused and wandered into camp and let them go in the sea. Stingrays are abundant, and they often have a GT or a bunch of bluefin trevally swimming with them. Wandering around on the atoll are a bunch of Aldabra giant tortoises that look really mellow until you walk past and they often hiss at you and retreat into their huge shells.

 

And then you have The Wall as it is known. Maybe a couple of hundred metres from where you have breakfast and supper is one of the most awesome things I have ever been lucky enough to have seen - on the last morning a few of us snorkelled out over the shallow reef to where The Wall drops away, and it’s awesome. From being able to stand up and touch the bottom, there is suddenly this inky blackness right there, and it drops away like a wall. No gently sloping from shallow to deep - you’re on a shallow reef, and then you are looking down into an abyss, just like that, and it’s one eerie feeling to snorkel over it. Apparently in some places The Wall drops away vertically to over 1000m deep (yes, a thousand). You hang there in the water, looking at shallow reef in one eye, and in the other is the abyss (with fish, turtles, sharks etc. everywhere) - the line of black you can see just behind the anglers in the photo above is that dropoff. It’s so good to be back home, but wow was that some experience.

 

If you know a bit about saltwater fly fishing, you will know that permit are one of the holy grails, and I saw a double hookup of Indo-Pacific permit one afternoon with both fish landed - the light wasn’t great, but that aside I must imagine this is a pretty rare occurrence. Two very happy anglers and a seriously over the moon guide!! There are almost a silly number of bonefish in the lagoon at Astove, with some seriously big bones moving around the surf zone on the outside as the tide strips away and they feel safe moving into the shallow water to feed - and yes, there are a lot of sharks out there, and yes, I had a couple come at me properly. You have to stand there, let them come pretty close, and then stamp your feet and hope they turn away. Fear and excitement in equal measures, and I love it.

 

All the incredible fishing and numbers of fish aside though, Astove feels like a place that time forgot. You see hawksbill and green turtles  almost everywhere you look, and sometimes you get really close to them before they see you and scarper. Astove is a very important nesting site for these turtles, indeed one morning guys were picking up baby turtles that had got confused and wandered into camp and let them go in the sea. Stingrays are abundant, and they often have a GT or a bunch of bluefin trevally swimming with them. Wandering around on the atoll are a bunch of Aldabra giant tortoises that look really mellow until you walk past and they often hiss at you and retreat into their huge shells.

 

And then you have The Wall as it is known. Maybe a couple of hundred metres from where you have breakfast and supper is one of the most awesome things I have ever been lucky enough to have seen - on the last morning a few of us snorkelled out over the shallow reef to where The Wall drops away, and it’s awesome. From being able to stand up and touch the bottom, there is suddenly this inky blackness right there, and it drops away like a wall. No gently sloping from shallow to deep - you’re on a shallow reef, and then you are looking down into an abyss, just like that, and it’s one eerie feeling to snorkel over it. Apparently in some places The Wall drops away vertically to over 1000m deep (yes, a thousand). You hang there in the water, looking at shallow reef in one eye, and in the other is the abyss (with fish, turtles, sharks etc. everywhere) - the line of black you can see just behind the anglers in the photo above is that dropoff. It’s so good to be back home, but wow was that some experience.