I am sure that the Met Office deliberately give us pessimistic forecasts so that we are pleased when it turns out better than their multi-million pound state of the art computers have predicted.
My pal Mike Concannon had spent months organising the Eagle Claw Dartmouth Plaice Festival, he was putting on a brave face, telling everyone that it was going to be a good weekend. I am sure it was sheer force of will that made Saturday a bright Spring morning as a flotilla of small boats made their way to sea past the medieval Dartmouth Castle which guards the approaches to the Dart estuary.
Right hand down a bit and hit the throttle to lift the boat up onto the plane to run the four miles westward to the beginning of the Skerries Bank.
I was fishing for the two days with Dave Harris aboard his spanking new Warrior 175 The 90 horsepower fourstroke Mariner purred like a contented cat as we cuffed our way through the short chop. The Lowrance 3000 navigator recording a speed of thirty one knots, what a superb ride for a small boat. There is little doubt in my mind that the Warrior boats have become the standard against which other small fishing boats are now judged.
Others said she was a picture as she threw aside the waves on the run down to the bank. What was remarkable to me was the soft, almost slap free ride at the speed she was doing. Dave has named his boat "Ultimate Warrior". I tend to agree with his sentiments.
Fishing a small boat competition such as this is always something of a lottery when it comes to choosing where you are going to fish.
The whisper locally was that the west banks had been producing fewer fish, but that the fish tended to be larger than those found on the main bank. So we made a democratic decision to run down to the west bank to fish the first of the flood, then later to move east, up onto the main bank to fish the top of the tide.
End tackle was a simple running leger, using a three ounce watch lead to a short seven foot trace, with a three way swivel about two feet from the tail hook. An eighteen inch snood dropped off from the swivel so that the two baits would fish almost in line with one another. This puts the two baits in close proximity, sending out a stronger scent trail, maybe getting the fish to fight one another for the two generous baits.
During the day Dave brought up a double header of fish and an hour or two later I did the same, only to see the better fish drop off at the side of the boat Such is life!
Drifting the west banks was a solitary occupation, there was only one other boat that had motored that far west. Using the superb cartography on the new Lowrance 3000 navigator we were able to position the boat to drift the sandbanks with a high degree of precision. After making one drift we were able to shift the boat twenty metres downtide and make another drift so that we searched the area quite thoroughly in twenty metre wide increments, each drift trail clearly indicated on the plotter screen. This precision on the drift was to become very important to us later in the day.
Dave's pal Peter Mott, the third member of our crew, had become very quiet as he reeled in what later proved to be an excellent fish on the day. His lugworm and squid cocktail bait had been picked up by a fine plaice which later in the day weighed in at 2lbs 11oz. Little did he realise at the time, that because of a sudden storm which swept in off the Western Approaches overnight and put paid to Sundays fishing, that this fish would be second heaviest and win him more than £200. So the little bird that told me the heaviest fish were to be found on the Western banks was not far wrong.
Moving up onto the main banks we found ourselves amongst the main fleet of boats. During the course of the next hour it became very evident that some boats were catching quite well and some were not catching at all.
It didn't take the Brain of Britain to work out that the fish were concentrated into small areas. The boats that were able to drift these pockets of fish were catching well and the boats that were drifting haphazardly were not catching very well at all. The pro charter boats had this technique off to a fine art. It didn't take Dave Harris long to start putting the Ultimate Warrior onto productive drifts using the visual accuracy of the Lowrance plotter screen.
We had been using crab, lug and squid cocktail baits, but strange though it might seem to anglers who regularly fish the Skerries, it was a cocktail of ragworm, lug and a squid strip that proved the key to catching quantity. This cocktail bait, combined with the ability to drift the pockets of fish, proved the key to our success. Heading back to the dock for the weigh-in we counted our catch for the day and were surprised to find that we had nearly twenty keeper fish between the three of us. Had we counted the chicken plaice that we returned, I would not have been surprised if our score was near twenty five fish for the day.
Sunday morning, it was just a little damp. The wind whistled up the river and there were some big waves breaking across the river entrance.
With a glum shake of his head Mike Concannon told us that it would be madness to even try to fish the Skerries in those conditions. So reluctantly the second day of the boat competition was cancelled and the prizes were awarded for the catches made on the first day.
First Prize was won by Mathew Smith from Ipplepen with his two best Plaice weighing in at 2lb 9oz 14drm and 2lb 0oz 6drm. Mathew won the Dartmouth Plaice Festival Cup together with a cheque for £250, a £500 Lowrance Sonar and a smock presented by local Custom rod builder Julian Shambrook.
As a matter of interest, each competitor received a "goodie" bag containing a pack of Eagle Claw (who were also generous in their sponsorship of the festival)Circle hooks worth about £5, a 25% discount voucher from Harris Angling Company, a copy of Sea Angling News plus various brochures from sponsors.
Mike Concannon worked very hard to make this competition a success and we all felt for him when the weather put paid to the second day. One thing is for sure though, I will be back for more of the same next year because this is amongst the best of the small boat competitions in the UK.
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