Tuesday, 19 April 2011

First catch report of the year!

Hokkais and pirks do the business

Well, with one thing and another, we were a bit slow this year to get out.  Previous years have taught us that the fishing can be poor early in the season, with a brief productive spell before the dreaded "May Bloom" caused by algal activity puts dampener on things until the water starts to clear again.  Quite often the period of the bloom is preceded by a spell of warm weather, which naturally encourages every man and his dog to get out on the water to fish!
Cold sunrise at Sandsend, with Whitby harbour in the background
There are those who claim that the time of day you fish in the sea makes little difference, particularly for deeper waters.  The guy who turns up a midday is as likely to catch as the guy who is there at the crack of dawn.  But the degree of brightness and water clarity have an effect on shallower inshore waters.  Days that start out cool and cloudy, and go on to be hot and sunny, generally show a marked drop off in fish catches.  We knew from the weekend's forecast that the weather was predicted to be warm, clear and almost windless.  Conditions that are great for a spot of early season paddling along the cliffs watching nesting sea birds, but not so great for fishing.

So an early start was agreed.  We left the house at 4am to get on the water before six.  The night had been pretty clear, and temperature had dropped on the moors to 2.5 degrees Celsius.  It was very cold first thing, with a stiff breeze numbing the ends of our fingers before we even started to tackle up.  As neither of had navigation lights with us, we waited until there was enough light to go. 
Fortunately one of us had a flask of hot coffee to fight the chill!
The pictures above don't give any indication of the unexpected and surprising size of the first breaker coming onto the beach.   It was only when we launched that we realised how big it was and how it could easily spin us and tip us out.  We paused and then paddled like hell and both received the wave crashing over our yaks.  Luckily we both popped out the other side and after more frantic paddling got beyond the breakers.  A wet, cold, heart-stopping start to the morning - yep, welcome back to sea kayaking!

We paddled out in search of rough ground.  As Sandsend is, naturally, a sandy beach, the fishing improves as you go north, where the sand gives way to rock scars and you start to hit patches of kelp.  But just around the base of the cliffs the ground is pretty flat and shallow, so we kept paddling northwards until the ground started to show a bit more variety on the fish finder.

The plan was to use the tide to drift up to Kettleness, fish the really rough stuff over slack water at low tide, and then use the return tide to pull us back down to Sandsend.  Although the tides were 5.5m, the wind was in the opposing direction and our drift speed was slow at first.  But gradually the fish started to show in patches.  We were fishing with strings of hokkais weighted by a pirk rigged with a single assist hook (you can see the set up here).

We were picking up codling and pollack at a regular frequency as we drifted, but without finding shoals or marks that would produce on a second drift.  By around 10am we each had a bag of codling to show for our efforts.  The average stamp of fish was on the small side, but that's to be expected until the bigger fish come close in to feed on the bait fish:
While not something you generally notice, cod do have surprisingly sharp teeth.  It's not uncommon when you're unhooking them to have to get your hand in there and pull the hook out, their mouths are so big they practically invite you to have a go.  You might feel a light scratch at the time as your fingers graze against the inside of their mouths, then after a while you notice a stinging sensation and wonder where that blood is coming from!  
But as slack water approached they was no more unhooking to do as the fishing slowed right down, so we pulled into a gully on the back of Kettleness for a mid-morning snack and a stretch of the legs.

For me, it was the usual fight-to-the-death with my dry top to get it off, so that I could then get my waders off, so that I could finally have a pee!  You really don't want to be in a hurry.  Can't wait until my dry suit arrives with a relief zip...  Still, it was nice to sit on the scar, feel the sun my skin and admire the scenery. 
Then it was back out, by now as predicted the weather had turned hot and sunny.
We kept at it for a couple more hours, but the wind died and the tide was taking forever to get going.  As we came back, we counted six other kayak anglers around Sandsend.  Everything had gone very quiet on the fish front, the fish finder stopped bleeping and the sea was almost smooth making our landing much easier.  The water never got particularly clear even a mile or so out, whether it was green from the start of the bloom or just earlier turbulence is hard to know, but it hadn't affected the fishing too much.  All in all, it was a lovely way to start the season.  Perfect paddling, with a fish or two into the bargain!

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