Henry Gilbey
Cape Cod - 1010.jpg


Henry Gilbey blog

We don't even know ourselves, so how in the hell are we ever going to know fish?

'Twas only a few short weeks ago and I was hearing all over the place about how there were no mackerel left in our seas, how they'd all been netted in the winter and that it was essentially all over on the mackerel front and everything would knock on from there and before you know it our seas would be empty of anything...............

Now what I am categorically not saying is that we haven't got serious issues with fish stocks throughout most of the world, let alone our little island here in the northern hemisphere. Science was never my strongpoint at school, but you don't have to be a marine biologist to understand that as the global population explodes, more people want/need to take more and more "free" food out of the oceans - and of course it's not as if the oceans are getting any bigger nor the fish populations "kindly" exploding themselves to meet these ever increasing demands being placed upon them. Nope, fish everywhere are in various kinds of trouble, and it's not as if dwindling bass stocks are by any means a unique issue.

But as human beings are we somewhat prone to doom and gloom and gloriously short memories? Do you remember the winter we had launched upon us? Do you remember the damage and destruction wrought upon the coastline? Are you now telling me that we go through a winter like that yet lo and behold everything in the sea magically returns to what passes for normal the moment the winds abate and the water begins to clear? As a race it's painfully obvious we don't even know each other every well what with all this hate/religious related carnage going on right now, yet we presume in our infinite wisdom that we know all about creatures that don't even breathe air and how they might choose to or indeed have to behave and be affected by such a winter.

So it was all doom and gloom on the mackerel front - yet they suddenly turn up in quite staggering numbers. Now I don't know how prevalent this event is around the rest of the UK, but right now it's simply incredible how many mackerel have turned up around where I live. I was driving along the top of Whitsand Bay on Friday evening, and it was some sight to see. The water was glassed off and all over the bay were mackerel busting on whitebait. The same late yesterday afternoon when we were heading off for a swim. Most times I've been fishing recently it's a case of trying not to catch mackerel, except that is when I have taken my girls out to catch a few for them to eat. I keep hearing stories of whitebait being left high and dry by mackerel chasing them, indeed I have heard about people simply picking up fresh mackerel off various beaches. It really is quite something to see in one's local waters. But hang on there, because only a few weeks ago there were no mackerel left and they were never going to turn up this year etc.

We ain't got a frigging clue, and this simple fact is rammed home to me more and more the older I get. If the reports I am hearing are correct, then the current cod fishing around Chesil is pretty amazing, in what are some pretty naff cod fishing conditions. But all the cod are gone aren't they? The bass fishing around me seems pretty tough at the moment, but I am hardly throwing in the towel and saying that they're all gone, not when firstly the actual shore fishing conditions for them are tough (but long may this stunning weather last), and secondly when there is currently that much easy food for them out there, why on earth should the bass be bothering to roam inshore and sniff out my meagre lures?

As I said earlier, yes, of course there are some scary issues surrounding many fish stocks, but I also retain the right to hold onto some sense of hope that these pretty incredible creatures continue to do things that we just will never understand. Sure, we build up patterns that help us catch more of them, but at the end of the day you get a winter like that and surely what passed for "normal" behaviour by these fish we chase must fly out the window because their environment is going through turmoil. But still we get back to what we think is normal when the seas calm down and the weather gets better, yet we in our ignorance reckon the creatures that live in those seas should be behaving how we expect them to always behave. Sorry, but it just doesn't all add up to me. And yes, of course, there is an element of me trying to apply human logic to nature because I am a human being and not a fish.

Seeing a bunch of small pollack smashing surface lures early in the morning is the kind of behaviour I would expect to see from a couple of months ago, but a couple of months ago it just wasn't happening like that. Did this mean all the pollack had gone? Well I'm starting to see small pollack launching themselves into my surface lures now, so I can't help but wonder how messed up the traditional timings are this year - or do we really have "traditional" timings? Do we simply build up expectations of nature's behaviour based upon "average" years or seasons, and then along comes a distinctly not average season and our expectations disappear out the window like a Salt Skimmer launches to the horizon? How about the start of 2013 and those roughly nine weeks of freezing cold conditions? We expected all to get back to "normal" the moment the weather did, yet how about the fish? Are bass going to do what we expect them to do in the same areas year after year? Do inshore stocks of bass change their patterns, and does our wholesale slaughter of them have a ripple effect on these patterns? How much do we really know about the oceans?