The Tiburon is a clean and tidy Offshore 105 which is skippered alternately by Allan Bennett and Graham Hannaford who actually owns the vessel.
Although Alís voice was breaking up on the limit of the mobile phone range, I cought enough of the call to understand that he would be in around half past five with some 20 pound plus cod on board. These were fish I wanted to see, they were the first of the autumn Cod from the offshore wrecks.
This first year of the new millennium has been an odd one with more of the same dreadful weather that we had to endure at the back end of the Ďnineties. The only thing that can be said in its favour is that the heavy winds and monsoon-like rain often keep the commercial boats moored up as well, so the fish stocks have had a quiet year. Maybe we will see the benefit of that in years to come.
In offshore Westcountry waters the Cod season seems totally different to more northern areas. We have two distinctly different runs of fish, one starting in September and reaching a peak toward the end of November then diminishing till the advent of the greater sandeels which begin to make their way up channel in early Spring. It is this second run of fish which, although not nearly so prolific as the autumn fish, will occasionally produce some truly monstrous fish. The best I have actually witnessed weighed in at a fraction under 49 pounds and was caught on sandeel fished close to the bottom in the gully on the north side of the Eddystone reef. The angler was actually disappointed, he thought he had caught a new Bass record, which was after all what he was fishing for. Some people are never satisfied!!
To the east of the Eddystone reef there is a cluster of wrecks which has over the years become known to anglers and charter skippers alike as "The Patch". The closest wrecks on the Patch are about 14 miles off Plymouth Breakwater and the outer Patch wrecks are between 20 to 25 miles off. So the run out from Plymouth takes from an hour and a half upward to two and a half hours on the average charter boat depending on conditions.
My guess was that Al Bennett was calling me from the outer edge of the patch because thatís about the range, over sea, of a good mobile phone system. This would fit in with previous seasons where the first run of Cod would be found on the most Southerly wrecks and then they gradually filter inshore over the next few sets of tides.
Once upon a time, before the proliferation of the monofilament gillnet, most of these wrecks would be stacked high with Pollack and Coalfish waiting to intercept the last shoals of sandeel migrating down channel, and the first of the herring and sprats riding the spurs of cold water up channel.
These days the charter skippers have to look hard for these fish and if they find a big shoal of pollack on a wreck they keep very quiet about it, playing all sorts of canny games to avoid being spotted on a particular wreck too often. But the Cod are different, they donít often stack high above the wreck. They are much more likely to be found tucked into the lee of the wreck, only spreading out at slack water and on neap tides.
There are two schools of thought about methods of fishing for these fish. One is the traditionalist anchor and big bait on the bottom, just like bottom fishing for conger and ling. This method will often produce excellent mixed bags of the various species with a fair proportion of cod mixed in and I have got to say is a very pleasant way to spend the day. Often the best tides for this sort of fishing are the small neaps with just enough movement in the water to keep the boat pointed up into the tide. Use a running ledger made up with a KF heavy line Slida carrying a sinker weighing a pound or more, depending on conditions. From the swivel tie a three or four foot, 30-40 pounds breaking strain monofilament or fluorocarbon leader. I like to use a fairly large single hook say an 8/0 and nowadays the hook that I favour is a circle hook, either the Eagle Claw or Gamakatsu.
If you are using a conventional "J" hook many anglers prefer to use the tandem Pennel rig so that the big baits can be presented with a hook at both ends. Nothing wrong with this rig if you intend to keep every fish, but if you intend returning any fish, the two hook pennel is not a good method to use, from the fishes point of view.
Use this bottom rig on a thirty pound class outfit and a good heavy duty reel loaded with 27 to 30 lb line, which is more than adequate to land the largest of cod. Many anglers are switching from nylon monofilament line to gel spun polythene lines such as Power Pro or Fireline. If you are using these superbraid lines, fish them with a thirty foot monofilament rubbing leader at the front end. I like to make this rubbing leader just a few pounds lighter than the braid, so that if you do get hung up in the bottom, the leader will pop first, usually at the swivel knot.
The second and arguably most productive method to use over the deep water wrecks is pirking. It is a well known fact that cod will respond well to a bright and shiny pirk bumped along the bottom. Expensive chromed plated pirks such as the "Norwegian banana" through to simple pirks made from lead filled pipe have all caught huge amounts of fish over a lot of years. It is essential that the pirk is heavy enough to cope with the tide so that it stays as close to "straight up and down" as possible. Otherwise if a few of you are pirking, the tangles can be horrendous and often the best sort out is with a sharp knife.
A reel with a high speed retrieve and some solid gearing is an essential requirement for the dedicated pirker. The classic reel is the red end plate Penn Senators, the gearing is good and everyone has spares for when they do eventually become knackered.
Pirking rods have always been a source of contention. Some anglers saying that a long rod is essential for getting a good sweep to move the pirk up and down. Others say a short rod is best because it is less tiring to use and much better to use in the constricted confines of a fully loaded charter boat. I tend to think a conventional 7ft 6inch stiff actioned boat rod is just the job, because I learned to pirk aboard Steve Barret's boat Boa Pescador and he rarely moved his rod to give movement to the pirk. He would reel up ten turns and let the pirk flutter back to the bottom, another ten turn wind up and so on. Worked well for him and has done pretty good for me as well.
In recent years, a few of us in the Southwest have pioneered the technique of pirking with a heavy leadhead fitted with a large, soft bodied shad. These have a number of advantages, the first of which is that they are considerably cheaper than the heavy metal chromed plated pirkÖ And that appeals to a tight fisted skinflint like me! Also they will catch just about every species you are likely to find over a wreck. Sometimes there are days when the pearl/black back shad is the only combination to use and on other days the red and sparkly colour will take fish to the exclusion of all others. All you need is a few leadheads and a handful different coloured shads to cover all eventualities, which makes life a lot simpler and your tackle bag a lot lighter.
Fish these soft bodied leadheads by reeling ten or twenty turns up from the bottom quite quickly so that the tail on the shad is flic-flakking rapidly, making a lot of underwater noise. Then stop and throw your reel out of gear and let the leadhead sink rapidly. The instant you feel the leadhead tap the bottom, start reeling again. This is usually the time that your rod will heel over and the deadly leadhead will have struck again.
The leadheads are something of a cottage industry. The big names do not like shipping lead weights around the country, so it is left to small operators such as:
"Old Mouldy" Tel: 01 924 450 035.
The Fishfinder. Mike & Helen Makin. Tel: 01 267 220 226.
Any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org