The oldest desert in the world lies behind me, yet cold Atlantic waters wash over my feet. I am standing on the wildest, most deserted coastline I had ever seen, a 13' long fishing rod cradled in my shaking hands, and to be perfectly honest with you, I'm bricking myself. Never before had I been fishing and actually worried about what I might hook and whether I would be able to cope with landing a fish from a beach that could well weigh more than me. If there is one thing that a few winter storms and a trashed coastline does for me, it's to bring up various fishing memories that reside in my head.
Many years ago now I remember being shown a photo of an angler on a beach sitting next to a great big shark, and obviously my immediate questions were along the lines of holy cow how big is that, what kind of shark is it, and most importantly, where on earth can one do that? At the time I was a youngish angler who spent a hell of a lot of time hurling baits into whatever bit of saltwater I reckoned might produce some fish for me, but up until then I had not travelled outside Europe, the largest fish I had landed from the shore was around say 35lbs, and in reality I just couldn't fathom the idea of catching sharks from a beach. From that day I started dreaming about going to Namibia in south west Africa.........
I am sure it's the same for you - there are various people we encounter through our lives to whom we will forever be indebted, and for me one of those people is a guy called Steve McGuire. The idea of fishing from the Skeleton Coast in Namibia was but a dream, yet a few years after seeing that photograph, an email arrives that asks whether I might be interested in heading out there and giving it a go. Firstly I think it's a windup, but no, after talking back and forth with Steve, not only is the whole thing entirely real, he's been out there himself and caught a bunch of big sharks from the beach. I probably asked about a million questions, but in due course I was taking my first long flight down to Namibia - and I blame Steve for completely blowing my mind and for also for introducing me to Africa. My eternal thanks for being so kind.
From memory the flight from London to Windhoek was ten or eleven hours, and I slept not one single wink - not a frigging chance. My excitement levels were off the chart, I was a bit apprehensive about going to Africa, and to be honest I was worried that I was not going to be up to task of taking on fish this big. How does one go from the kind of shore fishing we have to potentially taking on big sharks on similar gear, and from the beach of course - no boat to help you get line back. Excitement, nerves, fear, adrenaline, holy cow I must have looked like I was on drugs when I stepped off that plane and into the sunlight of my first day in Africa. By the time I was on the beach, holding a fishing rod and waiting for a real shark to come along and chow the bait, well let me assure you that I was a complete and utter wreck. I can distinctly remember shaking like a leaf and just hoping that if and when I got hit that I would at least be able to hold on for a few minutes before passing out on the warm sand.
The idea of hooking into a fish which is just so much larger than anything you have ever seen let alone tried to catch from a shoreline is bloody alarming, whatever happens to float your boat in fishing. I will remember that first shark hit for as long as I live, and as much as I like to think I deftly waited while the bronzie (bronze whaler shark, often called copper sharks) picked up the bait and moved off before I struck, in reality I was shaking away on a warm beach and then very suddenly, something tried to pull the rod out of my hands. Just like that. From holding a rod and nearly being sick with nerves to trying my best not to let go of one of Terence our guide's rather nice rod and reel setups (truly awesome guide, check here). I've travelled half way around the world to do this, and now it's actually happening. Holy frigging cow.
At the time I just had never seen anything like it. We've got some pretty awesome fish in our waters, but we simply aren't going to hook anything that takes this much line, pulls this hard for so long, and might weigh more than you, the person trying to catch it. Nothing makes much sense to me when I'm hooked up to my first ever shark from the beach, save for trying not to make a complete idiot of myself while I gainly hold on for dear life and wonder if I am ever going to actually make any line back. Don't ask me how, but perhaps an hour later and I am staring at a 150lb plus fish from the shore. I landed a shark nearer the 300lbs mark a few days later and to be honest I don't think I was right in the head (or body) for months afterwards.
I was lucky enough to do a fair few trips over to Namibia, and as much as catching proper sharks from the beach is insane, over time I actually came to prefer fishing for the "smaller" species such as kob, steenbras and of course gully sharks. They're just more manageable at the end of the day, and I do think about how much fun it would be to go back to such a special place and smash kob (kabeljou) especially on soft plastics etc. When those things run out there, holy cow it's incredible, and the thought of moving along that deserted coastline on the hunt for fish like that to be honest gets me through many a winter day here at home.
I remember so well worrying about whether the fishing in Namibia would ruin my shore fishing back home, but it didn't. For all the places I have been lucky enough to have experienced via my work, I would still take a beautiful day on a deserted stretch of Irish coastline with a few bass on the feed and be as happy as fishing can make me. Some of us get to fulfil various dreams, but if there is one thing all that mad fishing has taught me, it's to appreciate what we have on our doorstep and to love it all the more.
Above is a preview of my articles that are in the latest issue of Sea Angler, out later this week. Hope you enjoy them, and here's to warm days and slightly less breeze!!