The press frenzy that occurred afterwards was interesting to say the least, but with their need for a sensational story came the downplay of what was actually an incredibly moving and wondrous experience for those on board.
Many of you will, I am sure, remember the stories in the angling press from the 70's and 80's about the awesome porbeagle sharks that were resident off North Cornwallís ruggedly treacherous coastline; indeed some of you may have been lucky enough to fish under those Crackington Haven cliffs and miss a heart beat as your multiplier suddenly screamed its telltale signal. I was lucky enough to holiday every year in the west country, and although I was too young to partake of the experience, I was certainly old enough to sit on the Padstow quay and listen to the tales and occasionally watch the magnificent creatures being weighed and photographed. But then it all started to go quiet and I honestly thought I would never realise a dream and see these porbeagle sharks moving through a rubby dubby slick.
Some skippers inspire respect and admiration for their determination to succeed and to provide their crews with some quality fishing; Phil Britts is a man who is determined to put Padstow back on the angling map. They may not have the huge pollack of the south coast or the giant conger eels of the channel wrecks, but they do have loads of fish and a stack of variety; above all, they have access to the porbeagle sharks, and these creatures are making a strong comeback. Lots of us have hauled pollack off a mid-channel wreck until our arms feel ready to drop off, but how many of you have had the chance of waiting nervously for that reel to start emptying of its line and the chance to fight a fish that just does not give up.
Book a trip with Phil aboard the Blue Fox and you can target ray, bass, pollack, bream, tope, blue and porbeagle shark, wrasse, conger, ling, to name but a few; you wonít have the three hour plus steams to distant wrecks and you wonít have to pay serious boat fees. Phil and his co-owner/crewman Mike Turner have invested in a boat that is affordable, spacious and perfect for their coastline. There are not many men who know the waters better than Phil and they are both seriously keen anglers.
Cornwall is a hugely popular tourist destination, and whilst there is some great fishing throughout the summer months, do not forget that when things are quieter and distinctly more peaceful on land, the fish often go on a feeding frenzy. Accommodation is cheaper and more easily found and you wonít have to contend with small country roads heaving with caravans and huge 4X4 vehicles.
There is something wonderfully thrilling about steaming out of Padstowís confines and out into the Atlantic to chase a shark; not knowing quite what is going to happen or quite what you will see just adds to the whole mystique of fishing. When you are talking about a fish that can weigh over 500lbs, then you have to be talking about a big game fish, and apart from common skate, what else have we now in that category? I bet most anglers would class the chance of catching a 100lb plus fish as a lifetimeís ambition, and to catch a shark really harks back to our most primitive of instincts and combined respect and slight fear of these awesome predators. We cannot help but be drawn to sharks and their cold, calculating eyes; if they have had no need of really evolving much over millions of years, then surely they must be close to perfection. They inhabit a realm where their dominance is unquestioned and man is but a traveller in a strange and unforgiving environment.
Your first stop will be to feather some essential mackerel for hookbaits; drums of rubby dubby will already be on board, but I strongly advise you to let Mike deal with this, for once the lids are off, the smell is something quite terrifying! Once sufficient bait is on board, then settle down for the steam northwards up the coast; I am not about to reveal where Phil likes to drift for porgies, but I lay money on the fact that you will be very surprised as to how close in to the shore he likes to be. Bear in mind that this is all very different to those blue shark sessions where you can be ten to thirty miles off the coast on one long continuous drift; Phil will work the boat in very specific areas and on certain sections of reefs or scuddy ground, for this is where the porgies like to lurk and ambush their prey.
Donít worry if you havenít done this kind of fishing before, because Phil and Mike know exactly what they are doing and they are there to help and advise. The rubby dubby sacks will go over the side to provide that essential scent trail for the sharks to follow and home in on the baits; you will see what looks like an oil trail running off in the direction of the tide. You are quite welcome to take your own tackle, and use 30 or 50lb gear depending on your experience, but there are quality 50lb rods and reels on board if required; by all means fish the lighter 30lb class if you want, but for the first few times I would advise sticking to the heavier stuff as these fish have immense power and sometimes like to dive and stay deep. To then turn them requires serious pressure.
What happens next is different every trip, but while you are waiting for a run, stick a light rod over the side with a short but strong trace, and fish for the pollack and hard fighting tope. They have had as many as fifty tope in one dayís sharking before; there is not much point in me advising how to fight a shark, because they will all fight differently and you have constant access to Phil and Mike who are there to guide you through it all. All I would say is savour and enjoy the moment, because it really is something special to hook a powerful running fish close to those imposing cliffs. Anybody who doesnít get jelly-legs when a ratchet screams is either a liar or no true angler!
But what about this great white? Many of you probably read the press reports and made up your own minds as to what really happened, and if someone does not want to believe what we saw, who am I to try and change their views? I stand by Philís reaction, because I just shook like a leaf and tried to deny it; but you can not deny what you see with your own eyes.
Phil has been at sea over thirty years and has seen many things that you or I are never going to see. I will always remember his totally stunned reaction, shaking, and look of disbelief. I also clocked how many fags he smoked on the steam home (he also partook of a few light beverages when back on dry land!). As I said to the press, you donít see guys with over thirty years at sea shaking like the proverbial leaf. Mike Turner used to fish for great whites commercially in South Africa and has a photo of one 1600lb specimen he saw landed off Durban Breakwater (yes, breakwater, not boat!). He was shocked at seeing one in UK waters, but he was the calmest of us all and never for a second doubted what he saw.
I very quickly took the view that apart from all the fuss, we were actually extremely privileged to have seen such a creature and I only hope that there are more out there. I cannot believe that we steamed to where we did and saw the first great white that had ever entered our waters; I think the odds of this happening are too great. I have reliable reports, from people I know, of huge sharks (not basking sharks, they are easy to spot) off Jersey and the Eddystone reef; they were seen at close quarters and were definitely not porgies or makos. Makes you think, doesnít it.
In autumn of last year, there was a 12-15í shark caught up in crab pots somewhere off Padstow; it was dead, but it was that big that the crabber just cut it free. He is no self-professed shark expert, but he knew it was not a porgie, basker, mako or blue; Iíll leave you with that thought.
To charter the Blue Fox (the boat or as an individual), contact either:
Phil Britts, tel: 01841 533293, mobile: 07977 563807
Mike Turner, tel: 01841 521325
Ask them about times of the year, species to catch, accommodation, prices, etc.
The porbeagle sharks are there now!!