Sunday, 15 July 2012

Cornish Lure Festival : Topknots and Tantrums!

Last week on Thursday Scott and I drove almost 600 miles down to the north coast of Cornwall to take part in the Cornish Lure Festival. The festival had been arranged by Ben and Jo at Art of Fishing in St Merryn with two types of competition; a bass section and a species hunt. We were going to focus on the species hunt aspect of the competition and sample some of the truly magnificent fishing that Cornwall has to offer. After setting up our tent we decided to go down to Padstow harbour for a look. We spent the next couple of hours being tormented by big shoals of mullet and, true to form, the mullet ignored our offerings. I managed to winkle out a solitary blenny and Scott hooked three but they all came off as he lifted them up but apart from that the fishing was surprisingly hard. After a couple of hours we headed back to the campsite to get some much needed sleep. This was quite hard to come by as I had somewhat foolishly brought a million tog sleeping bag. This had the same effect as wrapping your body in clingfilm and sitting in a sauna. As I lay there I kept thinking about techniques and lures and the competition in a kind of sweaty malariaesque delirium.

It was a relief when dawn broke and we could end the humid hell and prepare for the competition proper. First stop was Art of Fishing in St Merryn where we met Ben and Jo. The shop is amazing, a mecca for all things lure fishing. It was great to see all the products in the flesh although hard to resist spending a fortune on them! Ben gave us some advice and a couple of marks to try and we headed down to St Austell to meet some fellow The Lure Forum members and sign in for the comp. We grabbed a bite to eat, met up with Rod Lugg and Steve Richardson and signed in. After meeting a few more The Lure Forum members we followed Rod and Steve to our first port of call. This involved a rather arduous decent down a steep Cornish hillside. I was wearing felt soled boots and these are exceptionally slippy in muddy conditions. With the aid of some ropes I slithered and sweated my way down to the mark, privately dreading the return journey. Finally we made it down to be greeted with a great looking mark; gullies and boulders and a crystal clear sea. Perfect!

Scott geared up his LRF gear and went exploring in the rockpools. I went straight for bass and went for a topwater lure. Within a few casts I had a swirl at the lure but then things went really quiet. Scott was first to catch anything.

Species #1 for Scott. A long spined sea scorpion.

After half an hour with sign of any bass I decided to try some rockpool exploration. Things were very slow for the next hour and every second that passed without fish put me on edge. Scott pointed out a large rockpool that had a large boulder in it where he had seen some blennies, as he wandered further along the coast and had a go for bass, I climbed down into the gully to see if I could winkle one out. What happened next will remain etched in my memory for a very long time. The boulder was big and had a large overhang which meant if I crouched down I could get the rod tip under the rock and present a lure right in amongst the fish. I mounted a 1.8g #10 Decoy Rocket jighead with a red 1" Gulp! Fish Fry and slipped the rod tip under the rock. There was no room to jig the lure with the rod so it was a question of tapping the line to make the lure tap against the bottom. I watched the lure tapping against the rock and noticed one of the rocks underneath start to move. The moving stone came into view it was flat with prominent eyes - a topknot! I have never seen one in the flesh before and with shaking hands I continued to tap the lure. The fish approached my little red fish fry and just stopped about 6" away watching it. My heart was in my mouth, contrary to my instincts I hopped the lure a little further away from the fish and it followed! This time it stopped 2 " away from my quivering lure. The fish really seemed to focus on the lure. Then, with incredible speed its mouth extended 2" and sucked the lure deep into its mouth! No need to strike the fish had hooked itself and with disbelief I quickly landed my first ever topknot. At this point I realised that getting a pic was going to prove problematic as I realised had left my camera in the car at the top of the cliff! Scott had his but he was way down the coast. I squealed like a schoolgirl until Steve took pity on me and came over to take a picture for me. Thanks Steve! Scott quietly wet himself laughing at my distant pleadings for a shot of his camera.

Species #1 for me. A topknot!
A special fish deserves a second photo!

The fishing slowed down for the next couple of hours apart from Scott having two pollock launch themselves completely out of the water to get at his Kiddy Brill Bait but missing it in the process. An hour before we were due to leave I had a large ballan tear my Slug-Go off the hook followed by Scott hooking but losing another ballan. Finally as we were making our way back I had a good bite and after a brief fight landed my first Cornish ballan wrasse.

Species #2 for me. Ballan wrasse.

Next came the slog back up the hillside to our cars after which Scott and I planned to go to a harbour. A quick breather after the climb up and we were on the road again and after a short drive we arrived. First port of call was the inner harbour where quickly spotted small wrasse grazing on the barnacles. Scott and I both rigged Isomes on a Shirasu jighead and added a 3" length of line with a #18 hook and a tiny piece of Isome. This worked a treat and we soon both had a couple more species.

Species #3 for me. Common blenny.
Species #2 for Scott. Corkwing wrasse.
Species #4 for me. Corkwing wrasse.
Species #3 for Scott. Common blenny.

We kept trying in the hope of getting a goldsinny wrasse as we were sure there were one or two there, but after a succession of corkwings and blennies we headed round to try in the corner. Scott clambered out onto a finger of rock and spotted some slightly bigger wrasse. After a bit of persistence he managed to catch one.

Species #4 for Scott. Ballan wrasse.

After this we decided to head to the outer breakwater. This proved to be a good decision as I soon added another species to my tally.

Species #5 for me. Pollock.

At this point I suddenly realised that I hadn't eaten since the morning and was finding it really hard to think! After a bit of a moan at Scott who said he wasn't that hungry and stomping off in a hunger induced grump, I managed to drive aimlessly round the town, find somewhere that was still open, beg to get some food as they were actually just closed, before heading back to pick up Scott who had managed to get himself another species in my absence.

Species #5 for Scott. Pollock.

We fished for a bit longer but then the skies opened. The rain was torrential and not wanting to try and put up a tent in it Scott quickly managed to somehow find us a caravan using his iPhone and Google! We drove for half an hour in the torrential rain and fog, conversed pleasantly and had a cup of tea with the lovely caravan owner before going into the caravan and passing out.

Saturday we headed back to the harbour again but it was very different. The inner harbour was very muddy with the overnight rain, so we headed to the outer wall. I tried with a Slug-Go and quickly caught a small pollock. I had a couple more but apart from a bass coming to have a look at the lure it was very quiet for me. Scott meanwhile had got off to a good start with a pollock and then proceeded to rack up a few more species for his tally.

Species #6 for Scott. Mackerel.
Species #7 for Scott. Goldsinny wrasse.
Species #8 for Scott. Pouting.

I swapped over to my LRF gear and after what seemed an age managed to hook and land a fish to add to my tally.

Species #6 for me. Long spined sea scorpion.

Scott then added another species to his list before I added one to mine again.

Species #9 for Scott. Dragonet.
Species #7 for me. Pouting.

We then went down to Porthleven where we would be based for the next two days. Scott had booked a weeks holiday there before he found out about the comp so his girlfriend, Lillian and his sister and her partner had driven down and we went to meet them at Rod Lugg's cottage "Tregonning" next to the harbour there. Needless to say we fished the harbour but it would only yield a few blennies and a solitary pollock for Scott, before we had to grab some food. After dinner we discussed tactics and I remembered reading reports that rocklings had been caught from Penzance marina so we headed there in the hope of finding something new. Using the same jighead with a  #18 hook teaser baited with Isome, we began searching the clear patches in between the weeds around the edges. Soon Scott had spotted some small fish attacking his lure. Gobies he declared and 10 minutes later had manged to hook a tiny one. It took about half an hour for me to recreate the feat but I managed it too. 

Species #10 for Scott. Rock goby.
Species #8 for me. Rock goby.

The relief was amazing! I felt I was really lagging behind with the numbers and it was now possible to get to 10 and beyond. We then had to help a man who had fallen down the slope into the harbour whilst relieving himself, dislocating his arm in the process. Scott and I climbed down using the ropes that the boats are tied up to and managed to haul him back up and get his girlfriend to take him to hospital. We couldn't however, include him in our species hunt as he wouldn't take a lure, and we had to resort to hauling him out by hand. We moved down to the main harbour in search of coalfish but all it yielded was a couple of new "personal worst" pollock before we called it a night. We snatched four hours kip and then it was back into the car and an hour up the road to the harbour to hunt mini species again. I was determined to get some of the species Scott had caught the day before. Sure enough when we arrived there were a few others taking part in the comp trying to do the same, all busy fishing. So it was on with the Isome and on with the fishing. I must be honest and say that up until this point I had not really been enjoying the competition. The main reason for this being that I saw everyone else as competition, which annoyed me a bit as I would liked to have fished with them rather than against them. I was also desperate to hit ten or more species and I only had a few hours to do it. I was fishing next to Luke Fox we had a chat and I began to relax and just enjoy the fishing. Twenty minutes later I felt a small bite and there was a bit of weight on the rod. It felt a bit different and with utmost care I brought the fish to the surface to see my prize.

Species #9 for me. Dragonet.

Another first for me. This was the game changer so next target was mackerel. I rigged up my bass gear with a Savage Gear Psycho Sprat that Scott had caught his Mackerel on the day before and cast the lure a country mile out to sea. I had no luck high up in the water but Scott told me I he caught his quite deep down using a very slow retrieve and it wasn't long before I was hit by a fish which started tearing around. The rod tip was juddering and when it started veering off to the side I knew what it was!

Species #10 for me. Mackerel.

Double figures finally! We carried on fishing for another hour before deciding to spend our last couple of hours trying for bass at a nearby mark. The mark was beautiful and looked like a scene from the Mediterranean bathed in sunshine with crystal clear water. We tried Patchinkos first and I had a fish come up and swirl but no takers. We also saw fish breaching the surface in pursuit of sandeels sending them scattering like silver shrapnel. Still no takers on the Patchinkos. I then tried a Megabass Vision 110 but no joy after 10 mins. Next I tried a MaxRap this time I got a couple of hits but no hook ups. This always amazes me as merely trying to get the lure out of my bag had me nearly hooked! Scott had switched to a bombarda and Kiddy Brill Bait by this point. I too had enough messing about with hard lures so on went a 4.5" Slug-Go on a 10.5g #2/0 AGM football jighead. The results were instant; first cast on the drop a feisty wee pollock! Scott then had one too. Another seven followed before we headed back along the beach. With that we pretty much had to head back to sign off at the competition.

When we arrived I was shattered, tired and grumpy and after a bit of a mix up with registering our catches and a bit of a hissy fit thrown by me (Sorry Matt!), we headed over to the prize-giving. First place in the species hunt was won with 14 fish which was great going. Can't help feeling I could have got similar if I had done a bit more research and planning and a bit less stressing out! Still, Scott and I came in at joint 4th I think with my topknot being possibly the most unusual catch over the weekend. Next came the raffle and at this point I turned to Scott and Ross Johnson (who narrowly missed out on a prize place with 11 species) and said "I may as well go sit in the car as I never win anything in raffles!". First name out of the hat was mine! I couldn't believe it! Scott and Ross laughed. I got to choose my prize so went for a 9' Major Craft Crostage sea bass travel rod despite Scott shouting "Get the booze!" when I went up to the table to pick what I wanted. I was totally stoked! There was also a free product handout at the end so Scott managed to get a few packets of interesting soft lures as well as a couple of coveted Ecogear caps. All in all we did pretty well to get 10 species from a place we have never fished before. I know I can get more next time. Many thanks to Ben and Jo and the staff at Art of Fishing for putting on such a great event.It's one that will stay with me for a long time and certainly worth the 1200 miles, sleep deprivation and one sandwich a day diet! Also many thanks to all the good people from the Lure Forum that I met, just a shame I couldn't be more social due to my competitive nature getting the better of me at times! Roll on next year when I'll hopefully be able to relax and enjoy it a bit more!

Tight lines, Schogsky.

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